Asa Daniels, Campus Carrier staff writer

Beginning Monday Feb. 22, a number of students and faculty Berry were unable to log into Canvas, Outlook email, VikingWeb and a number of other programs connected to Berry servers. The issue was temporarily resolved until Tuesday morning when problems arose again. Since Feb. 24, according to an email from Computing, Network Operations implemented a fix to try and alleviate login issues. Anyone still experiencing problems should contact the technical support desk at 706-238-5838.

Part of the continued issues is related to Microsoft, which has not released any statement relating to a resolution of the issue, according to the email from Computing. It appears to be something related to the various security checks that occur when someone is logging into their account, Daniel Boyd, director of information security, explained.

As Boyd described, the issue seemed to be inconsistent, meaning that not everyone at Berry was affected. This has made finding a solution more difficult. Berry’s IT infrastructure has gone through a number of theories as to the cause of the issue, including issues that could be specific to Berry, but has disproven all of them so far.

Boyd explained that it could be something related to an Office 365 platform update that occurred recently, which could have made certain changes that are causing the issue. However, no specific cause has been determined.

The login issue brought some classes to a halt, including, clinical assistant professor and college veterinarian Miranda Knight’s classes, who was unable to administer a test on Canvas or email it out to her students since they were not able to access those programs. She instead had to provide it fully online later that day.

Like other professors and students, Knight relies heavily on technology this semester, as well as the last two, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve all had to dive in and figure this out over the past year, how to utilize technology in our courses,” Knight said.

This heavy use of technology in order to provide the Berry education is mostly dependent on that technology being functional. Even if not over Zoom, technology still plays a large role in in-person instruction, such as the use of computers or projectors in the classroom.

According to Amy Cornelius, director of user support, the most common issues in the classroom are projectors or audio functions not working, which are often due to an unplugged wire or changed setting on the computer. With a technician, this problem is often relatively quick to fix.

Other issues require a total repair of the malfunctioning device in the class or going through lengthy troubleshooting.

“You go to [a] classroom, like into the Sandbox in the library, you see all these different settings and sometimes things can go wrong with that,” Cornelius said. “There was a situation last year where they did lots of troubleshooting [and] they had to troubleshoot every single piece of hardware, including wiring up through the ceiling.”

Technological issues can also be caused by inclement weather or faculty training issues, Jason Blalock, senior multimedia support technician, said. To help address these issues, there are a number of proactive steps.

“We schedule downtime for required maintenance/upgrades, we try to ensure that faculty, staff [and] students that use a classroom receive the proper training, we perform updates [and] upgrades and test equipment during breaks [and] we do our best to schedule student workers throughout the day so that we maintain as much coverage as possible,” Blalock said.

Blalock also explained that it is important for there to be communication between users and Berry’s office of information technology to ensure technology use goes smoothly.

“If a faculty or staff member have an idea for any space on campus that involves technology, loop OIT in on it as early as possible,” Blalock said.

Likewise, Jamie Lindner, assistant director of technical support, suggest that faculty be familiar with the technology they use in class.

“I encourage any faculty teaching in rooms unfamiliar to them to take time to do a ‘practice run’ before they teach in a new classroom,” Lindner said. “Finally, if an issue does occur, I highly encourage faculty to call the help desk immediately and report it. In most cases, a technician will be onsite within five minutes and the issue fixed quickly.”

Technology at Berry also needs to be safe and secure, in order to protect people’s private information and to provide an effective education, Boyd said.

When Zoom was first being used, there were a number of security issues that Zoom itself had to fix. Since then, it is now largely on the part of the individuals using Zoom to ensure security in meetings and events happening over Zoom.

“There’s all the security settings of when you host a Zoom meeting and making sure that the right people are in the meeting and people who are just there to disrupt can’t get into it,” Boyd said. “So, there’s some knowledge there that if you’re not aware of how those settings should be set, then you can have a meeting disrupted or a class which, you know, affects not just the professor but all of the students and that day of class work and classroom instruction can become completely useless.”

Another constant issue are phishing emails sent to Berry faculty, staff and students. Most of these emails go into people’s junk mail, Boyd explained, but that some still make it into peoples’ inboxes. They often relate to resetting a password by simply clicking a link or undoing a purchase transaction over the phone that a person knows they did not do.

Over the summer there were phishing emails related to FAFSA and student aid, which provided confusion around the student aid that was provided as part of the CARES Act. 

One thing a number of phishing emails have in common is the desire to acquire people’s login credentials, which can provide bountiful information for attackers.

“Having an .edu email gives you certain discounts on software [and] that kind of thing, but it also gives you an inside access basically to the institution from where you’ve stolen the account,” Boyd said.

Attackers gaining access to personal financial information can result in business fraud, but the gaining of personal information can put the student and the institution targeted at risk.

“The institution itself has a reputational issue now of not protecting their student data or not protecting the business data and that can affect everything from retention to recruiting,” Boyd said. “There’s not necessarily a direct [monetary] loss, but as fewer people come there will be less money. In addition to that, there are direct federal regulations on protecting student data and [if the you] violate those, in addition to some very angry students and parents, you also have the federal government knocking on the door asking what happened.”

Berry’s security is multilayered, Boyd explained, with physical protections, as well as antivirus and firewalls for digital items and the use of information security awareness training. Berry also has a backup system in case of major disasters.

“We have a fully fleshed out backup and disaster recovery setup that covers everything from issues with natural disasters and problems with individual buildings on campus to even ransomware attacks and that kind of thing,” Boyd said. “There’s plans in place to be able to both prevent them and react to them, so we do a lot to make sure that the information that we gather from students, we get from parents, that information that is part of our business processes, are protected.”

Another part of Berry’s information security system includes multifactor authentication, which has been rolling out for the past semester across campus. However, this alone cannot act as the only safeguard, Boyd explained.

“It’s not a silver bullet, none of these are, it’s all of it taken in together, the totality of all the different layers of security that you try and stop those that would attack us because they only have to be successful, once and we have to be successful on our side defending multiple times a day,” Boyd said.

For Boyd, it is important for everyone at Berry to “be vigilant, to be informed, [and] to be contentious.” This means that people must be aware and mindful of any emails, calls, or other contacts that reach out to them which are attempting to gather their information. People need to also understand how attackers may attempt to steal information and need to be protective of the personal information one has on their person, technology or elsewhere at Berry. This is because individual users are often the main victims of attackers, be it through emails or other scams.

Boyd believes that public security information awareness is the foundation of better information security at Berry. Students wanting to learn more about how they can protect their information should read the monthly newsletters from information security that are emailed by Boyd and by going to infosec.berry.edu.

Posted by Campus Carrier

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