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UMass IT aims to increase online security by blocking websites

UMass OIT has started blocking websites such as one for the Pearson textbook company. Katherine Mayo/Daily Collegian

UMass OIT has started blocking websites such as one for the Pearson textbook company. Katherine Mayo/Daily Collegian

In an attempt to ensure cybersecurity at the University of Massachusetts, Information Technology services have taken steps to prevent malicious activity and bring safe online browsing to students across campus.

“In recent years, higher education has seen a dramatic increase in the number and severity of information security attacks, and UMass Amherst is no exception,” said Interim Chief Information Security Officer Jake Cunningham..

He cited examples of two cyberattacks launched by hackers on Penn State’s College of Engineering and College of the Liberal Arts in November 2014 in regards to this increase. It is likely, though not confirmed, that the motive of the hacks was to gain unauthorized access to and steal sensitive research information using malware and computer viruses.

“In response to growing information security threats, and to maintain appropriate uptime for campus IT services, UMass Amherst Information Technology uses automated software to protect computers from Internet sites that are known for disseminating viruses and other malicious content,” he said.

Cunningham added that the intention of the service is to provide information security protection, noting that it does not censor access to web pages based on their subject matter or their content. Instead, it attempts to minimize the incorrect reporting of safe, clean sites and content within the network, called a false positive.

According to Cunningham, the university’s campus reports less than 0.02 percent occurrence of false positives. He said IT staff works diligently with website vendors to “tune and refine their product on an ongoing basis.”.”

If students come across false positives while browsing online, Cunningham encourages them to report their findings to IT so they can be immediately addressed.

Students and faculty can also seek permission to get a site unblocked. If  access is needed to a certain site, they may send a request in to IT including the URL of the website, the date and time they tried to access it, and the IP address used.

The site may then be unblocked and monitored for suspicious activity. If it is still found to be malicious, the website will be put back on the blocked site list.

Tanaya Asnani can be reached at tasnani@umass.edu.

Comments
One Response to “UMass IT aims to increase online security by blocking websites”
  1. J. Cunningham says:

    Thank you for letting us know about the site in the photo so we could promptly ensure it was accessible. The site is accessible and issues with sites should be reported to it-abuse@umass.edu

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