A planned security patch to the Georgetown Wi-Fi network resulted in a wireless service outage from midnight to 6 a.m. on Nov. 10 that limited access to all campus networks in all but two buildings.
The outage occurred while University Information Services installed a security patch to campus Wi-Fi services to address undisclosed vulnerabilities in the networks. The SaxaNet, GuestNet, GURegistered, Eduroam and GU_Visitor Wi-Fi networks were all affected.
The university’s IT manufacturer communicated the need for an urgent patch providing a short timetable to alert the community of the service outage, according to Chief Information Security Officer Joseph Lee.
Jacalyn Banks, acting director for service management at UIS, said the Wi-Fi outage was necessary for UIS to implement essential IT upgrades.
“Necessary maintenance outage recommended by our vendor. These outages almost always address known vulnerabilities along with feature enhancements,” Banks wrote in an email to The Hoya on Thursday.
UIS sent a universitywide notice of the patch early that afternoon, giving the community less than 12 hours of warning. Internet was still accessible via Ethernet or in the Intercultural Center and Rafik B. Hariri Building, which continued to have Wi-Fi service. Library desktops and computer labs were not affected.
Lee said patches to university information technology infrastructure and Wi-Fi are very common and generally do not involve Wi-Fi service disruptions. According to Lee, this patch mainly focused on security improvements and updates to keep the university safe from cyber threats.
“All IT maintenance activities are designed to ensure continuity of service and/or security of service. Because of the nature of it, it is one that we need to do right away and in this particular case it was a security patch we needed to apply,” Lee said.
According to Lee, this patch was no different from other software updates that occur on computers and smartphones, but because it affected campus internet service, it was more noticeable.
“We are just applying a patch,” Lee said. “It is almost no different from any other patch we will apply from time to time.”
Lee said the patch and the accompanying Wi-Fi outage were important for maintaining both security and preventing future unplanned disruptions to Wi-Fi service.
“We try to notice as far in advance as we can, but there will be times we feel that we need to apply something immediate and this is one of those cases,” Lee said. “If we didn’t feel like it was necessary for us to do in order to protect the infrastructure for the university we wouldn’t do it.”
According to Lee, the ubiquitous nature of Wi-Fi makes upgrading the systems difficult, as it often results in service disruptions. Lee said that UIS tries to balance applying updates from the manufacturer in a timely manner and ensuring minimal disruption to students, faculty and staff on campus.
“There is never a good time to take down Wi-Fi and I don’t want to wait until Thanksgiving when no one is on campus anymore,” Lee said. “We were notified that we should apply a patch and therefore we have taken the opportunity to then find the most innocuous time that we could find to apply this patch.”
Lee said the patch was expected to result in adverse effects to the campus community, but the overall goal was to keep the university and the campus community safe and to mitigate the chance of larger disruptions in service.
“Ultimately our intent is to protect the university, protect you, protect me, protect our infrastructure,” Lee said.