NIU students free of Internet filter system

By Matthew Rainwater

DeKALB | Students who use college computer labs to surf social networking Web sites such as and, or play online video games can be a nuisance for fellow students and college officials alike, and this past summer, one Illinois college decided to do something about it.

At Rockford’s Rock Valley College, officials placed a Web filter on their campus network, hoping to prevent students from using computer labs to play online video games and surf social networking sites.

This ultimately caused headaches for professors and students at the college when they found they were unable to do basic, harmless research. Students weren’t even able to access the United Nations Web site.

The only time it would be fair to have filters in place on lab computers would be when other students are trying to use a computer, said Lacey Frye, junior English major and computer lab attendant of two years.

“It’s not fair when students are browsing sites like or while a student is waiting there, in need of working on a project for a class,” Frye said.

NIU’s Information Technology Services has no immediate plans to place filters on any of the computers available for use in on-campus labs.

ITS would consider placing filters in any of the computer labs on campus, both private and public, only if doing so would prevent some type of viral outbreak or other illegal activity from occurring, said James Fatz, director of Enterprise Systems Support and IT Security.

The only significant limits ITS has ever placed on student computer lab use has been file sharing, Fatz said. This is due to the nature of file-sharing software, which saturates all of the available bandwidth, he said. This can cause all other users to lose functionality or access to the network.

ITS only blocks Web sites to prevent targeted denial of service attacks or a Web site that is an immediate security risk. These sites have usually been from foreign locations, Fatz said. ITS also makes announcements or alerts regarding particular Web sites that pose a threat to the network.

“These sites are the type that has spoofed a look-alike NIU site or been part of a spam scam,” Fatz said. “In some cases, these sites have been set up for the sole purpose of gaining information for purposes of identity theft. These types of announcements do not happen frequently.”

Laura Price, a junior biological sciences major, said filters wouldn’t be fair for all students.

“Many students on campus don’t even have their own computers,” Price said. “It wouldn’t be fair for them at all, and so they wouldn’t be very happy if they weren’t able to access their profiles on from the computer labs available to them around campus.”