Witsies clued up on networking but clueless on network security

Witsies are unaware of network security at the university and how it affects them. Some students do not know what a network is.

“I don’t know [what a network is], but I think it’s so important to know about all this,” said 2nd year political science student Nokuphetha Mlambo.

Students are also unaware Wits spends a large amount of money keeping its network as safe as possible and that a network ultimately composes their personal information. Some express an “ignorance is bliss” sentiment, saying the idea that their information could be “hacked” scares them.

Andrew Alston, chief technology officer at an internet access and support company, defines a network as “an interconnected set of computer systems that can communicate with each other… allowing an individual who is utilising one of the computer systems to interact with the other computer systems”.

Universities have become “hacker” targets since 2006. Breaches to university networks and theft of student and staff information have occurred. The most frequent reasons for hacking into university systems are to steal identities to apply for fake student loans, steal exam papers stored electronically, gain access to financial information for other nefarious purposes or use the network to multiply spam e-mails.

Wits Central Networking Service (CNS) is dedicated to the maintenance and security of Wits’s networks and servers. Nita Lawton-Misra, Wits acting registrar, says she is “quite positive the university tried to ensure that information entering and leaving the systems was as secure as it could be in the technology world”.

“We are constantly looking to improve our network services and increase bandwith to ensure better connectivity,” she says.

Alston, speaking in his personal capacity, says the majority of system compromises are internal. “University networks…are often very hostile places, not because the students are bad, but because part of a student’s nature is to study that which is around you. It would be rare though to see if any actual damage is caused.”

While students say they didn’t think about how secure their information was at Wits, they do try to be vigilant in their internet usage. First year BSc student K. van Wyk says she does not buy things online nor open e-mails that come from unknown people and is cautious while using the internet.