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The great firewall of ORU

Photo by Josh Crow

In the film Black Panther, a sparking protective force field bubbles over the city of Wakanda—keeping out the evil and protecting the good. This far-off technology, seeming to only exist in fictional fantasies, already exists for students at ORU—in a way. Just like over the city of Wakanda, ORU has it’s very own protective force field, known as the ORU firewall managed by a team of cybersecurity professionals.

Outside the school’s firewall is the wild, wild west. There’s a gang of bandits hiding behind the corner of a saloon as dust whirls through the air. An unassuming guy walks along the path in town holding a big sack with a money symbol painted in green on the outside. As he begins to round the saloon, the bandits jump out, hit him with a rock, take the money and run off.

That is the internet according to ORU Network Engineer Spencer Toland. The firewall, a highly complex system that irrigates server traffic, blocks the “bandits” from getting inside and protects any and every device connected to the ORU server.

When students, staff or faculty leave from under the protective shield on campus to a coffee shop, they are subject to viruses, bots and thousands of “bandits” looking to harvest their information that now flows freely through the air for hackers to obtain.

One way to generate your own mini-protection system outside of the ORU firewall, is through installing a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN essentially throws an invisible cloak over your web traffic or creates a private road to a point, making it harder for hackers to touch you but not impossible. They offer more privacy than security and due to lack of government regulation, a VPN service could be collecting and selling your data, and it’s not unlikely that the FBI owns certain VPN services, according to Toland.

When students travel abroad on missions trips, especially to dangerous countries, VPNs can be helpful in regard to hiding and protecting your identity.

However, “the total expectation of privacy should never be there,” warned Toland. “There should be more than one measure in place. Everything is like an onion. The more layers you have, the harder it is to peel it back and get in the middle before you start crying.”

The ORU system filters out sites containing content that is explicit or may be “questionable.” It’s not uncommon for students to research topics for class projects like medical marijuana and get blocked when on the school’s WiFi. Even sites like memes.com are restricted due to the adult content section.

The department is willing to work with students on a case-by-case basis when it comes to blocked sites. While one site may seem casual and even have the ORU logo on it, it may be riddled with scams and bots behind the scenes, explained the team.

“If someone is feeling uncomfortable about a URL blocking, it’s all about dialogue,” said ORU Director of IT Operations Peter Kovaleski. “It’s always easy to talk to your roommate and complain about it, but if we don’t know about it and if someone’s frustrated, I have to know.”

ORU’s cybersecurity team works hard day and night to ensure the digital safety of students. It may not be convenient when a research paper on medical marijuana is due at midnight, but the wild, wild west is a little more tame.