Plymouth Week: Protecting our Network Assets

October 1st, 2003 by Adam

Plymouth State is ever more dependent on technology. This year, ITS and our USNH colleagues will be assessing the risks associated with that dependence, and take steps to assure that the technologies we use on a daily basis remain accessible and uncompromised.

Think about the technologies you use on a daily basis. Email, the Web, discipline-specific software applications, WebCT, the new iWebFolio, online research and periodicals, Banner information systems for student, finance and human resources, telephone systems (wired and wireless) and the plethora of new technologies arriving with students each year. Then think about the network they ride on. How your work is impacted if that network goes down.

As we incorporate more and more of technologies into teaching, learning, administering and residing at the University, we have become all the more sensitive to the need to support them and ensure their availability and protection.

Recent threats of viruses have yet again illuminated this dependency. Prior to the return of students and faculty, many administrative functions were disabled by viruses that spread rapidly around the Internet. ITS managed the proliferation as well as could be expected. We also took steps toward protecting the PSU network from further proliferation by installing centrally managed virus upgrades to all employee computers. However, this is just one of many threats that we deal with on a day-to-day basis.

To get the full appreciation for some of these threats, one need only watch over the shoulder of a network administrator during a normal work day. It is commonplace to detect network intrusions from external sources, intrusions that cruise the Internet looking for vulnerable (unprotected) computers or servers. In spite of our best efforts and industry innovations, these malicious miscreants require our constant attention.

Additionally, we need to protect our networks from internal threats. We spell out what is ‘acceptable use’ on our computing resources in policies. We also limit the amount of bandwidth individuals can consume, protecting our networks for the primary functions of the University.

Threats to our computing resources are not limited to human behaviors. All of our major systems are housed in a back room data center. Those servers require around-the-clock power, air-conditioning and ventilation, and protection from water, fire, dust and other environmental contaminants. Natural disasters, fire, and weather pose potential and significant threats to our resources. While actual probabilities of these threats may be low, the impact of any one of these potential disasters could be devastating to PSU. We need to take steps to mitigate these risks.

Higher ed institutions are being called on to improve our overall network and computing security. Our traditionally open and accessible environments are causing threats to the rest of the Internet.

This year, ITS, in collaboration with other campuses in the University System, will be assessing the numerous systems and aspects of their use at Plymouth State. Additionally, we’ll be gauging risk and probability of harm. The overall purpose of this effort is to identify risk mitigation strategies and disaster recovery plans that will prevent Plymouth State from loss sustained of computing and network resources.

Finally, knowing the obvious question exists, why do we continue to place so much emphasis on technology? The answer: Plymouth State is committed to providing access to education and preparing our students for a world where technical fluency is an integral aspect of their work as knowledge seekers, information processors and problem solvers in an ever-increasing complex world.

I’d appreciate your thoughts and comments:

Dwight Fischer, CIO