Brad Weber–Staff Writer
Over the Thanksgiving break Dordt preformed a “network upgrade” to the campus internet and Wi-Fi system. In a campus wide email, Brian Van Donselaar, director of computer services, said that the update “brings significant security features that are missing from our network right now.” In addition to security updates, the network upgrade should better accommodate the growing student body and provide faster internet speeds to students. When asked about what specific security issues the update addressed, Van Donselaar mentioned malware, email phishing and viruses.
For most students, the only noticeable differences will be the message that is displayed when they attempt to access a blocked website, and what websites are blocked. Notably, alcohol, tobacco, web-proxy, and VPN-related content, previously available over Dordt internet, are now blocked. In addition to these categories, some websites are now being flagged for “malicious” content, meaning that they may be the source of viruses or malware.
As is to be expected with the implementation of new system updates, there have been minor issues. For example, for a period on Sunday, Dec. 3, the website of Calvary PRC Church in Hull, IA was flagged as “malicious” content, and the Sunday evening livestream service was not accessible on Dordt Wi-Fi.
However, there is a system in place to deal with improperly blocked content; if you believe you should have access to a website, you can bring it up with Student Services, and they may whitelist the websites that they deem acceptable.
Generally, the Information Services Advisory Committee decides what content is, or is not, allowed. The major categories they focus on are pornography, illicit drugs (marijuana included), and academic dishonesty (especially paper-writing sites).
One popular site that Dordt students no longer have access to is 4 Chan. While 4 Chan is well known for its trolling community, Dordt’s main objection to it is the pornographic content available on some boards. It is blocked under the category of “other adult materials.”
Content classified as “extremist groups” is also blocked by the new firewall. The line between extremist groups is vague at best, though. Jihadology.net is blocked, but stormfront.org, a white supremacist blog, is not. The Nation of Islam, a black supremacist group, can be accessed through noi.org, and the KKK is available at kkk.com.
Brian Van Donselaar admitted that the vast majority of content categorizing is done by a third party, and that Dordt simply chooses which categories to block. Dordt has the ability to whitelist whatever it sees fit, but whitelisting is the exception, not the rule.
The implementation of this new internet firewall comes at a time of fierce national debate on internet privacy, security, net neutrality, and the academic climate that should be fostered on campuses. While working to sort out the complex issues that come with living in a technological society, Dordt as an institution tries balance the desires of students with their academic principles as a Christian institution.