OIT plans to register computers

Beginning Dec. 16, the Office of Information Technology will require on-campus students to register their computers with the Duke network each semester. The short form that will pop up on the computer screen the first time a student goes online each semester will ask for the network identification and password already used for e-mail, allowing OIT to connect computers with individual students.

The registration comes after an increase of break-ins of student computers. In the past six months, in excess of 300 computers on campus have been hacked into. More than half of these have been student computers.

University Information Technology Security Officer Chris Cramer said the ability to trace student computers will allow OIT to contact students when their computers are being hacked into, and thus prevent damage to students' hard drives.

"We've seen people destroy computers," he said. "All the term papers, anything stored on the computer, is gone."

Before instituting the registration plan, OIT contacted Duke Student Government for student approval, Cramer said. DSG raised no objections to the proposed registration plan. The new registration will allow OIT to more easily link students' names with their computer network histories.

"It could cause problems, but I personally think this is a better version of checks and balances," said Brandon Taylor, a junior and DSG co-director of undergraduate computing.

"I don't really think it's a DSG issue," Taylor added.

Hacked computers also slow down the online network, Cramer said. Since bandwidth is shared by all computers on campus, one computer's illegal use disproportionately slows down the entire network. Cramer said some computers have used as much as 20 percent of the bandwidth while under the control of hackers.

He added that some hacked computers have "attacked other websites" such as Yahoo.com or the Department of Defense's website, and tried to shut them down.

"If we don't know who the student owner is, our only choice is to take the computer offline," he said.

If the computer's owner is located, OIT can easily fix the break-in. They can already trace University-owned computers because they are more easily identifiable. On-campus student computers, however, are not easily traceable to their owners currently.

The registration--which does not apply to the wireless network or off-campus ethernet connections--will also prevent non-University affiliates from accessing the campus network. Currently, anyone with an ethernet connection can use the Duke network. With the new registration, only people with network identifications will be allowed online.

Because students sell computers to one another, all on-campus computers will be registered every semester to keep the records current. Every new computer will also need to be registered regardless of what point in the semester it is bought.

"This is required if you want to get online," Cramer said.


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