District addresses Internet attacks

By: Zuhayr Alam

Over the past few weeks, the Cedar Falls School District has struggled to overcome persistent attacks on its computer networks, and many students and teachers have noticed a drastic decline in Internet speed and connectivity. The trouble not only slows network speed, but it also encumbers how teachers and students approach classes, practice quizzes, lectures and homework assignments.

English teacher Jenae Kennedy is one of the many who said she is frustrated with the lack of connectivity.

“It has affected my classes in several ways,” Kennedy said. “I post a lot of paper, assignments and discussions on Schoology, and without the internet, we couldn’t access them. We can’t access YouTube or Google Drive on a consistent basis, either.”

Senior Kyle Kramer said that the unreliable Internet connection is stressful.

“Well, it has certainly made it harder to work on homework and even do things my teachers have prepared for me in class,” Kramer said. “Not knowing when we are able to use them has definitely slowed down the pace in almost all of my classes.”

CFU Chief Technology Officer Robert Houlihan provides Internet connection for Cedar Falls, and he credits the drastic decline in speed and connectivity to a series of DDoS attacks.

“I believe there are at least a couple of things happening. The largest problem that we can see is distributed DDoS attacks,” Houlihan said. “The Cedar Falls Community School District experienced a number of DDoS attacks last May, and they began recurring Monday, Sept. 28.”

The DDoS attack is like a wave of unneeded data overwhelms the network, Houlihan explained.

“A DDoS attack occurs when an attacker floods a network connection with information. This is happening with the district’s Internet connection, resulting in the district’s firewall becoming overwhelmed trying to process the volume of such requests,” Houlihan said. “As a result, legitimate requests for information are prevented from passing and are disrupted, so the attackers have achieved their goal.”

Superintendent Andy Pattee said that the district is looking into many solutions for the problem.

“We are working to finalize some potential Cloud-based mitigation solutions and have  been in contact with several businesses and other educational institutions who have suffered similar DDoS attacks in the recent past,” Pattee said. “CFU continues to be a great partner as we work through this challenge.”

Cedar Falls School District Coordinator of Technology Brian Unruh said the district is working hard to find a solution in a timely manner.

“The goal is to try to get things taken care of as soon as possible. We know this is extremely frustrating for everyone,” Unruh said. “Hopefully, we can find a solution that works and get things back on track very soon.”

Pattee also said there are possible short term solutions.

“Our intent is that any interruption should last no longer than approximately 15 minutes to switch IP addresses,” Pattee said. “[These] steps are immediate solutions and are designed to stop a direct attack. However, we are also working on a long term solution that provides us with a more secure and reliable network.”


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