Q&A with Heath Hase on the recent cyber attack and Wi-Fi disruptions

The following transcript outlines an interview that I conducted with Heath Hase, Assistant Vice President for Integrated Technology, to clear up any confusion regarding the recent Wi-Fi outages as well as the cyber attack that occurred on or before Aug. 18.

Bodine: I have heard rumors about the cause of the initial outage and wanted to ask if there were any clarifications that could be shared.

Hase: On August 18, 2023, Jewell discovered it was the target of a cyber attack, which disrupted the operability of our network and systems. Our Department of Information Technology acted quickly to ensure the security of our systems. Additionally, the College partnered with third-party specialists to assist in investigating the nature and source of this event. That investigation is ongoing.

Side note: Hase mentioned in an aside that the above response is truly everything currently known about the attack.

Bodine: I have also heard that the Blue Valley school district experienced something similar in recent years. To your knowledge, are these cyber  attacks commonly directed at educational institutions?

Hase: There has been an increase in educational institutions being impacted by cyber attacks, making it a top concern for colleges and universities, including Jewell. We take the operability and security of our network and data very seriously. The groups that target educational institutions are clever in that they aim to disrupt the operations of colleges and universities, particularly at the start of a new school year.

Bodine: Am I correct in saying that the initial major outage is somewhat separate from the current Wi-Fi issues? Or are they connected?

Hase: The current Wi-Fi issue is unrelated to the August event. Last year, the institution began work on a $3 million I.T. project to upgrade the campus network and Wi-Fi infrastructure. Inevitably, an upgrade of this magnitude will experience hardware installation mishaps, which is what caused JewellSecure Wi-Fi to be temporarily disrupted.

Bodine: What upgrades will be done? I have seen the toolboxes in front of Jewell Hall as well as the crews around campus. Does it have to do with the security camera updates or the Wi-Fi system updates?

Hase: The toolboxes located in front of Jewell Hall are being used for HVAC [heating, ventilation and air-conditioning] upgrades. In general terms, the I.T. infrastructure project includes the installation of new network cabling in all buildings, the upgrading of over 300 new Access Points responsible for broadcasting WiFi and the expansion of our security camera fleet and network, among other things. HVAC projects will finish up in the next several weeks, and security camera updates are about to begin.

Hase also mentioned that these network and Wi-Fi infrastructure upgrades will be a major boost to the strength of the system. Each of the 300 new Access Points will raise the Wi-Fi device limit from 40-50 all the way to 800. So, while there may have been a few issues during implementation, students will reap the benefits soon.


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