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Ask Slashdot: Dealing With University Firewalls? 582

Posted by timothy
from the little-fiefdoms dept.
An anonymous reader writes "My university only provides access to the web, via a restrictive content filter and proxy service. There is no access to the wider internet. I was wondering if this is common, and if anyone has any suggestions on how to go about protesting the issue. I've spoken to the lecturers and they have the same frustrations I do. I've also spoken to the head of the IT department who spouted lines about 'protecting the network.' This is very frustrating, I've seen a number of students making use of 3G/4G dongles to get access to the net and this just seems crazy. The restrictions applied to the web are draconian, with sites such as hackaday, hypberbole and a half, somethingawful, etc being blocked." What would you do to get better access?
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Ask Slashdot: Dealing With University Firewalls?

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  • Re:Tributes (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 27, 2012 @04:50AM (#39170157)

    This. Or, if your university has a Networking section/sub-section, start there.

    I work in IT at a university and although we do have some restrictions on websites (pornography and cheating websites), we also have an appeals process that is open to anyone. I find it silly that they would block off a huge host of seemingly random websites for "safety" reasons, except maybe on university-owned computers open to the public (even then, we just put DeepFreeze on ours).

    Another solution would be to get someone with some clout on your side. If your university is like most others, anytime someone important gets huffy over a subject people immediately fold to avoid confrontation. I'm talking about staff though, not academic departments (no one cares about those).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 27, 2012 @04:58AM (#39170193)

    I have been in the position of having to block internet to a college in a previous job. There were constant battles between the marketing and academic departments about blocking and unblocking social media sites. In the end the marketing department won and they were unblocked. The tutors didn't like it because they relied so much on computers for their lessons rather than using good old fashioned methods like lecturing and demonstrating.

  • Which University? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JambisJubilee (784493) on Monday February 27, 2012 @05:09AM (#39170251)

    I'd say the university isn't fulfilling its role, and you should definitely rally to change things. The purpose of the university network (besides supporting research communications) is to allow you to learn.

    During my undergrad the university I attended provided full firewall-free internet with a *public* IP from their block for everyone who plugged in (and no-questions asked CNAMEs). The wireless was of course NAT'd but I had no problems.

    This all worked because of the genius way they solved problems was genius. If IT detected any funny business, a tech would physically show up at your lab/office and ask you what was going on and make you fix the problem right then and there.

  • by m50d (797211) on Monday February 27, 2012 @05:42AM (#39170437) Homepage Journal
    If you're staying in university accommodation, and they're in a monopoly position as your internet provider, then they have an obligation (moral and possibly legal) to provide an equivalent service to what you'd get from a commercial ISP in private housing.
  • by Weezul (52464) on Monday February 27, 2012 @06:03AM (#39170529)

    Rutgers University bans ssh public keys. Ergo, all the students employ expect scripts that contain their passwords. These expect scripts aren't from students writing em' themselves, but just copied from friends. In particular, there are students who barley know what ls and rm do, but certainly won't know to change their password if their laptop gets stolen. And students commonly hack one another's accounts by copying said script.

  • Re:Google (Score:4, Interesting)

    by icebraining (1313345) on Monday February 27, 2012 @06:48AM (#39170695) Homepage

    I've read the comments from stories from 2002 [slashdot.org]. I don't see how are they much better. Are you sure you haven't forgot to take off the rose-colored glasses?

  • Re:Grow Up (Score:4, Interesting)

    by FictionPimp (712802) on Monday February 27, 2012 @09:14AM (#39171437) Homepage

    That's all fun and games to think that way. Until other people who are paying for that access bitch. Before we filtered content, we would get almost daily complaints from students about people watching porn in the library, or at a kiosk, or the guy who sat in our public area running a business (not a student, but he did pay for a gym membership so he is a paying customer....).

    We would never have enough information to find and catch these people, so we would have to run around with our little "acceptable use policy" trying to find them and get them to sign it. Then hope that if they did it again, we would get enough notice to find them again and get them to sign it... again(you know the administration isn't going to expel a student over it...).

    Then one day a big shot had his kid with him and she saw a student watching some really bad porn. Now we have content filters. (At least that's the story I'm told when I was told to implement the filters). The best part was that big shot thought we always had the filters. They were really mad that IT didn't take it on ourselves to filter content.

  • by xenobyte (446878) on Monday February 27, 2012 @10:28AM (#39172141)

    There were constant battles between the marketing and academic departments about blocking and unblocking social media sites. In the end the marketing department won and they were unblocked. The tutors didn't like it because they relied so much on computers for their lessons rather than using good old fashioned methods like lecturing and demonstrating.

    Why was that a problem? - That people might use (gasp!) their computers for more that just the lessons?

    Sounds like narrow-minded tutors with a feeble grasp on reality.

    Besides, why should the tutors care? - If people waste the lessons updating Facebook instead of getting smart, they'll simply fail and thus have wasted their tuition. I hope Facebook was worth it, but the tutors shouldn't care less if the students are that stupid.

  • by mindcandy (1252124) on Monday February 27, 2012 @11:36AM (#39172895)
    I am security@ a large public .edu .. and I can say that their approach is quite *uncommon* among my peers in the industry.

    Education is typically a very open environment, and IT will happily provide (within reason) anything that doesn't interfere with something else.

    For example, we have several "hacking labs" on campus, where students are free to do basically whatever they want, regardless of how malicious. Granted, those networks are firewalled off from the rest of campus (and the Internet). We also have PlanetLab, TOR (which I run myself), and a few other projects.

    As for Internet access, we don't have "wide open" like your home DSL (email, for example, must go through our servers for obvious reasons) .. and we block common things like tcp/6666 and tcp/445 outbound .. but other than that, we reguarly field calls from folks that just got $shiny_new_game for their $toy and want to know if we can figure out why voice chat (or whatever) doesn't work.

    Last year we actually had students bring their PS3/Xbox units into a conference room in the IT department, hooked up to our projectors, and had then all plug into a switch where we were running a sniffer .. we had the network engineers, security team, etc. all assembled and basically told the students "go for it" and made several ongoing tweaks to things to ensure they got the best experience (gaming is a latency-sensitive application, we just needed to figure out how to prioritize it with QoS and the packeteer).

    In short .. tl/dr .. sounds like your Uni has a sucky policy. Take it up with the provost .. you are paying to be there, and Internet access is part of your campus experience. If it's not up to par, they need to make changes.
  • by dave420 (699308) on Monday February 27, 2012 @11:44AM (#39172997)

    Hmm. How about just not living on campus? I didn't. I shared a house with a bunch of folks, and we were free to get all the unfiltered internets we could carry, and lived like normal people.

    The uni IT guys have to maintain a network, and so if unrestricted access is given to all, there really is a great risk that their network will become host to all kinds of messed-up crap which stops students from actually studying. So yeah, your 10pm wank might be shelved, but your 9am lecture is actually feasible. Installing a student's own DSL line is fraught with issues regarding telephony infrastructure, and I doubt the university wants loads of telco workers traipsing around messing with wires at all hours because said 10pm wank is not working.

    If there is a problem, talk to the student union. Just don't assume the university is doing the wrong thing - they probably have concerns you've not even thought of.

"A mind is a terrible thing to have leaking out your ears." -- The League of Sadistic Telepaths

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