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Shimon Rura ’03 sent in

Shimon Rura ’03 sent in these thoughts in relation to some of Mike Needham’s recent comments on the state of the technology infrastructure at Williams.

Hi Mike,

In a recent post on the Williams Blog you mention that “a hacker broke into the system in September and completely escaped notice up until now. The consequence is a large percentage of the campus has had their passwords compromised and are having serious trouble accessing the Williams network and most importantly e-mail.”

I just wanted to point out to you that, although I (’03) am not on campus, I believe the breach you’re referring to was on systems run by WSO, not on the college’s own systems. WSO (Williams Students Online) is a student group, funded by college council and run entirely by student volunteers. Though it is often lumped together with “official” college IT under the umbrella of computer stuff you can access at Williams, it is an independent entity.

In particular, the staff of Williams OIT do not have any access to or responsibility for WSO servers. OIT gives WSO some network plugs, electricity, and a cage in the basement of Jesup. WSO procures, sets up, programs, and maintains their own systems. WSO and OIT have a healthy cooperative relationship, and OIT has even contributed some funding for certain WSO equipment.

Therefore, even if you believe this security breach was only made possible because of negligence (I am doubtful here), that negligence would be on the part of the students who run WSO, not the staff in OIT. If you think about this, WSO is actually a remarkably effective, sophisticated, innovative, and reliable service considering that it is run by student volunteers.

Personally, while I cannot deny that OIT’s service record leaves some things to be desired, I will agree with Kimberley that the staff does well given
their resources. IT is a generally risky discipline because the systems involved are enormously complex and change faster than most humans can learn. In large part, IT failures at Williams have been the results of bad luck, not preventable errors.

I wish you great success in advocating for better technology services at Williams.

As always, it is tough to know from a distance what is going on, but, to my mind, recent events demonstrate once again that WSO is a great organization and that Williams should be praised for allowing and encouraging its students to embrace these sorts of responsibilities. Of course, it is too bad that WSO was hacked (I am a WSO user too), but, as a result of this experience, the students who run WSO have learned much about life its own self, at least in the business world. They now know much more than most 20 year olds about security, service, back-up plans, customer support and so on.

Williams is a better place because of its willingness to allow its students real responsibilities even though some mistakes will always be made.