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The CS Web server

Topics/tags: Miscellaneous

Last night at a little after eight p.m., I sat down to watch Grinnell’s volleyball team take on Cornell College [1,2]. Since they were doing warmups, I decided to finish and post the musing I had drafted earlier in the day [3]. But first, I checked my electronic mail. At the top of the list was a message from our SysAdmin indicating that,

Due to suspicious activity on [the Web server], we have taken the precaution of temporarily isolating that server from the network.

Since our Web server is at the center of my electronic universe, I found that message a bit concerning. Fortunately, I’m not teaching classes this semester, so I wasn’t worried about my course webs at the moment. However, I had just posted our job advertisement to the SIGCSE-Jobs listserv [4], so my first response was Information on the job is posted on the server. I will admit that I was also a bit sad that SamR’s Assorted Musings and Rants would not be available, but I accept that my ’blog is much less important than our course webs. My colleagues quickly noted that their courses are all on our server. By the end of the evening, our SysAdmin had managed to get our home directories posted on another server, one at [6]. It’s supposed to be available at, but the DNS system does not seem to have propagated that alias yet. I’m not sure why we didn’t just associate with, but I assume the folks [7] at ITS are busy trying to figure things out.

Do I blame ITS for taking our Web server down so abruptly? Nope. Given what happened at Regis this fall, I expect that they take all potential attacks very seriously.

Whose fault is it that our server was vulnerable? That’s a more complicated question. I’d say that there’s blame to go around. We’ve been talking about changes for over four years; two sets of student SysAdmins had trouble making the updates that we wanted and, since ITS took over system administration two or so years ago, they seem not to have had time to make updates. But we’ve been discussing it, and it looked like we would be making changes at the end of this year [8].

This experience has reminded me that I rely way too much on our Web server. I posted to Facebook that I think I need a life. However, I think the real moral is I need to run my own Web server.

Postscript: One thing I really don’t understand from this whole situation: I’m on sabbatical. So why did I end up being the one who sent the email messages to the student mailing list explaining the situation?

[1] No, not Cornell University. And not Grinnell College, either.

[2] Grinnell one three sets to none. Congrats Pioneers!

[3] At times, I muse at night. At times, I draft the musings during the day and then post them at night.

[4] SIGCSE-Jobs is new. I consider its creation one of my positive accomplishments as SIGCSE information co-director [5].

[5] I have no idea why they decided to call us information directors. It makes it hard to add the co- because there are two of us.

[6] You won’t find anything at that exact URL, but you can append /~rebelsky/ to see my subsite.

[7] Or perhaps just one person.

[8] I have a feeling that our timetable will be accelerated.

Version 1.0 released 2019-09-07.

Version 1.1.1 of 2019-09-07.