Wireless network upgrades necessary after firewall crash

CIS takes action in wake of wifi outage

Aubrey Rhoadarmer, Staff Reporter

Junior computer science major Zachary Himes works at the CIS help desk, which has been tackling recent network outages. (Jacky Chen)

Computer and Information Services has been working over the past two weeks to ensure that the campus wireless network is upgraded, preventing another outage like what was experienced by students in March.

With most classes being online and almost all assignments being turned in via Canvas, an untimely wireless outage caused several problems for SPU students in the final month of winter quarter.

On March 1, Freshman music major Lexy Geffs was just one student who was affected by this disruption.

“I was trying to turn in a writing assignment for class around 10:30 pm, it wasn’t submitting and every time I hit submit it said there was an error,” Geffs said, “And then about 15 minutes later I get an email saying that there was a campus wifi outage.”

The wireless outage was due to a campus firewall crash, SPU’s Chief Information Officer, Micah Schaafsma, explained. A systems engineer had to drive out to fix the issue, and while they worked to repair the firewall, the wifi on campus was out for about two and a half hours.

Over spring break and during the first week of classes, students received several emails from CIS explaining that they were doing upgrades to the campus wireless networks as well as the campus firewall.

The firewall crash on March 1, as well as following instability, is a major reason why CIS was rushing the firewall upgrades. However, they are also trying to be one step ahead of any potential threats to SPU student’s data.

“During the pandemic there has been a dramatic increase in cyber crime, so we’re seeing a growing volume of attacks and fraud,” Schaafsma said, “There are enough threats that are happening and we’re seeing, and other schools getting hit and we’ve decided we can’t wait to upgrade, we have to do it now.”

Schaafsma explained that SPU has two firewalls, one of which filters traffic on and off SPU’s network.

“It protects us from all sorts of attacks and malicious traffic,” he said, “Think of it like castle fortifications, we’re guarding the front gate and blocking who comes and who comes out.”

The second firewall is the one that was just upgraded, and prevents access to student’s information, such as financial records.

The network equipment that serves SPU is located in the center of the CIS office. (Jacky Chen)

“[The second firewall] protects the keep of the castle. So that’s where Banner is, where Canvas is, all of the other sensitive pieces of equipment and data systems where we’re storing all the student information,” Schaafsma said.

After CIS cut over to the new firewall, they had to conduct several tests to make sure it was effective.

“We have redundancy in the system, so we have a primary and a failover, so if the primary fails, the second firewall will pop up and take control. It was a brand new setup and we needed to verify that it would fail over properly and the first time we tried it it didn’t work,” Schaafsma said.

In total, CIS tested the firewall four separate times and caused no disruptions in the wireless network.

As for the wireless network itself, CIS is planning to replace all the wireless access ports in the dorms over the summer. But first, they have to upgrade the main control center.

“We have a central hub system that runs all of [the wireless ports] and coordinates all the traffic so we’ve been upgrading that in preparation for upgrading all the physical units out in the dorms,” Schaafsma explained.

Those upgrades took place the morning of March 24. Although the wireless network on campus was down for thirty minutes due to the upgrades, most students were off campus and were unaffected.

While the outages are few and far between and CIS is working to prevent them in the future, students, like freshman psychology major Gloria Diehl, are still frustrated.

“There hasn’t been a huge problem where I was completely unable to finish something, but it still is a hindernance,” said Diehl, “Having to stress about access to resources is starting to get old.”