Another cyberattack cripples Rutgers networks

A cyberattack brought down Rutgers University's networks Monday morning, prompting criticism from students and questions about the security and strength of the school's infrastructure.

Monday's attack, which followed a series of similar ones earlier this year, came as many students were studying for exams and after the university said it was spending millions of dollars to beef up its systems.

The universitywide outage began Monday morning, with students reporting connection problems around 10 a.m.

Shortly afterward, Rutgers' official accounts began posting on Twitter and Facebook that the network was "experiencing technical difficulties," and then the university confirmed that Rutgers was experiencing a denial-of-service attack across all campuses.

By Monday afternoon, some students reported that emails were going out and coming in again, but others complained of spotty connections. A university spokesman said Monday evening that he had not been advised of a resolution to the problems.

Distributed denial-of-service attacks involve using multiple computers - often in a "botnet" of tens of thousands of computers infected by a virus without users' knowledge - to make repeated requests of a server, overwhelming it.

A series of such attacks took down the university's networks earlier this year, including days-long outages in March and April.

Those attacks, like Monday's, affected university services including email; wireless Internet access; Rutgers.edu websites; and the Sakai online course management system that professors use to post assignments, readings, and other course materials.

State and local authorities are investigating those attacks, with help from the FBI.

When the Rutgers University Board of Trustees voted in July to raise tuition and fees by 2.3 percent, university officials attributed part of the increase to the cost of beefing up network infrastructure.

Rutgers has hired three cybersecurity firms and is spending up to $3 million to protect the university, the Newark Star-Ledger reported last month.

On Twitter on Monday, students criticized the university for allowing another attack, especially given the tuition hikes.

Some, like Jake Torpey, 18, of Marlton, were preparing for exams when Monday's attack crippled the university's networks. On Wednesday, the freshman is scheduled to take his first college test, a philosophy exam worth one-third of his grade.

"My professor posts all the PowerPoints and study materials on the website Sakai so that we can go and look at it. And we can't look at it now, due to the outage," Torpey said from Rutgers-New Brunswick.

Torpey printed a paper Monday morning and submitted it on Sakai just in the nick of time. A friend was not so lucky, he said; the connections went out before she could submit her paper.

Torpey said he had another exam Thursday, but his economics professor had warned them at the start of the semester about the previous school year's attacks.

"Because of that, he tells everyone to download the stuff off Sakai so that they can access it when it's ever attacked," Torpey said.

He followed those instructions for his macroeconomics class but didn't for the others - because he didn't expect to need it.

Monday's attack - a wake-up call for many students - might prompt him and others to start saving materials from all their classes, he said.

In the meantime, "I'm just going to have to go on what I have and hope for the best," Torpey said.

jlai@phillynews.com

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