With districts around the country going virtual in some form or another, students, faculty, and parents rely on the internet for educational purposes now more than ever. Even before COVID-19 struck, temporarily changing the way students do school in a drastic way, internet attacks had begun.
But, what are they? During Cerro Gordo’s regularly scheduled school board meeting on Sept. 16, Quality Network Solutions Neil Bryan, Director of Technology Solutions, and Bradely D. Loy, Operations manager spoke to the Cerro Gordo school board about the various issues. They are the district’s Sullivan-based technical support firm.
Bryan said a DDos attack is a distributed denial-of-service attack. The attack is designed to disrupt traffic, which in essence overwhelms the service causing it to jam. You can think of it essentially as a traffic jam during construction season – no one moves until congestion slows down except in this case it is not cars, but people or perhaps bots.
As far as the threat to a district, he said the attacks are usually malicious in nature. There have been several in Cerro Gordo since the start of the school year.
Bryan stated, “it is almost impossible for us to stop it internally, ...few things we can do within the network.”
Board Secretary Karen Freese asked, “are you seeing similar situations in other districts?”
Bryan responded, “the short answer to your question is yes, we do see similar things in other school. You can see DDos attacks have increased exponentially in the last few years.”
As far as protection for more attacks, “I can say this about Dbos attacks, the only way you protect yourself is practices. It comes down to the practices, there is nothing anyone can put in here to say it won’t happen again.”
Board President Tony Piraino asked if it was an issue of bandwidth, to which Bryan replied, “Ddos attacks, trying to think of a good analogy for it...it’s like everyone going to a sporting event or concert, you can imagine all of the cars at one time and you have one way going in. It is that congestion that happens in the firewall.
“If you open it up from one lane to four lanes it is going to move faster for a while but it will bunch back up,” he continued.
Bryan said that increasing the bandwidth alleviates problems temporarily, but not completely.
“They will become more insistent on the size of the attacks used. They will just increase that as long as the ip address is out there and accessible.
“The biggest change we made was identifying possible suspects in the network and rerouting those machines and had the ip address changed, so it could happen again. It could happen again with this new IP address,” said the technical support firm spokesman.
As far as how many attacks the district receives, Superintendent Brett Robinson stated, “I am not sure how many, but according to QNS this was happening regularly for about 3 weeks. The district is currently working with Metro and QNS analyzing some usage data in regards to our current bandwidth, but an upgrade is imminent. Through the process our ISP temporarily boosted our bandwidth to 1GB at no charge.
“According to QNS they are working with our ISP to provide increased security at the ISP level. They have also set us up with an isolated secondary network for student owned wireless devices,” said Robinson.
During the board meeting Piraino additionally asked, “in an ideal world, without this going on do you think we had enough bandwidth?”
Bryan replied, “I am going to say 300 mb bandwidth reasonable discussion with that 14-18 months ago that might have been okay, pre-COVID. With COVID and remote learning, what I recommend now and I will share with you is I am recommended one mg per user on the network.”
He went on to add that does not include things such as security cameras, or other devices.
Robinson addressed how quickly technology needs have changed.
“Just to tell you how quickly this changes, before Metro came to town, with an insulation of a fiber network to town it was Mediacom and it was 20 mb/sec and that was all that was all that was available and that was all we had,” he told the board.
The district is now at 300 Mb/sec and is considering an upgrade to 500 Mb/sec on a more permanent basis than the temporary bump provided by Metro. Robinson did say there would by cost increases, but that if “we need the speed, we are going to get the speed.”
I just kinda threw all that out there, so you can get a feel for how quickly this changes.”
Bryan went on to state that the firewalls sometimes are unable to process when attacks occur because they are getting multiple requests, and there is only so much they can do.
“There are other solutions as well possibly with state programs that mixes with that and there are other third party solutions as well that we can route all our traffic through, but that is going to take some research because of some of the regulations that we have,” he said.
One area that was addressed, said Robinson, was communication that only student accounts may be accessed on school devices, not other personal accounts.
“To the best of my knowledge everyone has complied with that,” he said.