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Distributed August 26, 2003
Contact Mark Nickel

A very real risk
Brown moves to protect its network servers, e-mail and Internet access

Brown University is sending more than 50 members of its computing staff into dormitories in an effort to protect the University’s network servers and maintain an acceptable level of service.

Brown University is sending more than 50 members of its computing staff into dormitories this week in an effort to protect the University’s network servers and maintain an acceptable level of network service. Staffers will help students disinfect their personal computers and install any necessary patches before connecting any Windows-based machines to the University’s network. Estimates based on reports from other universities and on Brown’s own experience are that half of all machines arriving on campus will have one or more vulnerabilities.

Ellen Waite-Franzen, vice president for computing and information services [CIS] at Brown University, sent the following message to all faculty, staff and students on Tuesday afternoon, August 26, 2003.

Faculty, Staff and Students:

This message is to alert you to critical problems that we are encountering on the University network. As many of you are aware, the number of viruses, worms and other serious vulnerabilities has risen in recent weeks. Until this morning, we had been able to keep the Brown network up without significant degradation of services. This morning's outage was unusual because the attack on our core network servers was so massive. This attack and outage indicate that the risk of a lengthier outage is very real.

Since students began returning to campus this week, we have experienced escalating and significant problems in the student residential network and now within the administrative network. This weekend, with fewer than 20 percent of our students on campus, the residential network became fully saturated with traffic that was generated from 40 compromised machines. Once we removed the compromised computers from the network, acceptable performance was restored. Because of our weekend experience, and based on insight from other universities, we now estimate that approximately 50 percent of the computers that students bring to campus will have one or more vulnerabilities that could seriously impact the University's network services including e-mail and the ability to access the Internet.

CIS is taking extraordinary means to address this issue so that we can maintain a secure and functioning network. Based on the past weekend's experience, we cannot allow students who live on campus to connect to the network until they have fully patched their computers and equipped them with the most recent virus update. CIS is providing students with the tools and staff support to help them meet this goal. We have ordered 8,000 CDs for students and others to use for their initial setup and we are sending over 50 CIS staff into the dorms this week to help students disinfect and configure their computers. For some students, you need to be aware that this may mean that they will not have immediate network connectivity; if you communicate with them via e-mail, they may not receive this mail until later this week or sometime next week. We will also be distributing CDs to the Graduate School and the Medical School.

What can faculty and staff do to protect your computers and the university's network? CIS has prepared a page of instructions for the current vulnerabilities. See

On an ongoing basis, make sure your computers have the most recent critical updates for your Windows operating system. These updates are found at

You should also configure your system to download and install these updates automatically.

When you receive notices that new patches or updates are available, apply them, even if this is going to take a few minutes. In most instances, the updates and patches are there because problems have already been identified.

If you have not downloaded Symantec Anti-Virus, go to [available only to the Brown community] to download it and perform a scan of your computer. Scans usually take quite a bit of time, so you may want to do this over your lunch hour or when you will be away from your desk. Set your computer up to receive automatic updates from Symantec. If you need assistance in doing this, contact your Departmental Computing Coordinator or call the Help Desk.

If you are returning to campus and connecting a Windows computer to the network that has not been patched or updated in the last 24 hours, or if you have a new computer that you are connecting to the network, these computers also need to have the operating system patched and virus protection software installed and updated. If you need help with this, please contact your Departmental Computing Coordinator, or call the Help Desk, 3-4357 (or 3-HELP) or [email protected].


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