Top Minds Vexed: Harvard Sees Mysterious, Widespread Wi-Fi Outage

December 11, 2014

By Tara Seals - Contributing Writer

Harvard University’s IT department said that it experienced “intermittent outages” recently — just in time for the institution’s reading period, when students are feverishly working on their end-of-term research projects.

According to the Harvard Crimson newspaper, the Wi-Fi was down campus-wide, so that students and others weren’t able to access external websites for much of the morning and early afternoon.

Interestingly, so far no one knows why. HUIT (Harvard’s IT branch) said that it was looking for the root cause of the attack, but said that it likely wasn’t malicious, as no anomalous activity was detected on the network. The department did however notice that the system logged “heavy [Domain Name System] traffic,” i.e. Internet traffic, suggesting that students were being, well, more studious than usual, and overwhelming the available bandwidth. Or, it could have been sparked (no pun intended) by a power outage somewhere in the system.

“In a statement posted at 3 p.m. Friday, the department wrote that it had taken remedial steps that improved Internet access, but that the outages may not have been completely fixed because it had yet to find the root cause of the problem,” the newspaper reported.

Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean for Administration and Finance Leslie A. Kirwan sent an email to students alerting them that HUIT was “aware and actively working to address this issue presently.”

Students in the meantime were trying to get things done, and the school has made some accommodations for this, in light of the outages. The Crimson said that the Office of Student Life had extended the deadline for winter recess housing applications because of the outages, and the Dean of Student Life Stephen Lassonde told students concerned about completing an assignment on time due to the service interruptions to “reach out to his or her resident dean.”

Obviously, outages come in many forms, and seemingly when they’re the least convenient (like when you’ve put off an assignment until the last minute). Whether it’s weather-related, usage-related or the result of malicious activity, the moral of the story is the same: Adequate backup solutions that incorporate both power and alternate communication paths are always a wise idea.


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