ITS: No monitoring of online work

By Jake Miller

In a digital world full of spam, worms and Trojan viruses, NIU depends on Information Technology Services to provide a safe and reliable network.

With this kind of responsibility, ITS must safeguard the network while simultaneously monitoring network traffic. With privacy concerns among hot topics with Internet users, ITS ensures they do not watch each user’s online work.

What’s legal on campus

“NIU and ITS have several safeguards in place to improve the security of the resources that are entrusted to us,” said Elizabeth Leake, associate director of ITS. “Our energies are focused on maintaining a robust and secure network.”

Although ITS does not regularly watch online networks, ITS must be readily capable of monitoring a network for an authoritative source to help investigate criminal activity, Leake said. “However, we do not have the staff, or the desire, to monitor specific activities on a day-to-day basis,” Leake said.

ITS, with its capability to monitor the network, has a working relationship with the University Police. It assists police in tracking any criminal activity being investigated and could possibly involve the network.

“When [ITS] runs across things, they let us know that they might have seen something that resembles criminal activity,” said UP Lt. Matthew Kiederlen.

Users are expected to conduct themselves in a way that complies with NIU’s acceptable use policy. Although the World Wide Web is a public resource, users should be aware there are some laws against possible activities the web could be used for.

“We have had incidents of things like child pornography in the residence halls where we have had to investigate computers,” Kiederlen said. “We have had to confiscate computers and have them searched for possible evidence.”

Occasionally, someone will abuse the network, Leake said. If this occurs, the people are contacted directly and depending on the activity, the penalty may range from a verbal reprimand by an abuse investigator, to referral to the NIU Judicial Office or outside agency.

NIU e-mail accounts

NIU e-mail accounts are dealt with in the same way as the rest of the network. E-mails would never be monitored unless ITS was contacted by an outside agency to help in a criminal investigation, Leake said.

“Very few of our software administrators would have the capability [to view e-mail], but they are much too busy to do this unless NIU is asked to cooperate with a third-party agency,” Leake said. “ITS is in the business of providing service in support of education, not to police e-mail or web traffic.”

Cameras monitor the 24-hour computer labs in the residence halls, but they are only there for the user’s personal safety, Kiederlen said.

Tools such as spam controls and the governance of certain types of files that are known to host bots, viruses and worms are in place to help protect users, Leake said.

Separate networks also have been set up to help with productivity and safety of the network.

“In the past, peer-to-peer traffic often brought our entire network down. That is no longer a problem since we introduced a throttle for that type of traffic and since our connection to Internet2,” Leake said.

ITS now has a separate network for residence halls, which is where the most peer-to-peer traffic tends to take place, Leake said.

Freshman business major Mike Siffermann does not worry about security, but is more concerned with the efficiency of the network.

“I’m more irritated with the network and the constant updating that’s needed [in the residence halls],” Siffermann said. “If I had it my way I wouldn’t even use the network.”