University students: Does your school monitor your internet?

Created by Jayross on March 15, 2012, 7:04 p.m.
  • Hey guys. One of my friends got an on-campus job where he can monitor each individual's Internet usage. For example, he can see what websites someone is using and what their bandwidth is like. They block torrents, but I am guessing that is pretty normal.

    So, a few questions:
    Do your universities do something similar?
    What are the Internet privacy laws like in Canada?

  • Worked in a few Uni jobs in the UK. It is standard practice to have some level of monitoring locked to the user (physical port, unique login onto wifi, mac registration, etc) as well as the basic filtering to prevent abuse (be this blocking of P2P traffic or bandwidth limiting of upstream over a threshold or just a lot of closed ports you're unlikely to need to do your work - I'm not saying it is right to block students from WoW but if they decide to live on campus and sign the agreement for rental of the line all of this is explicitly stated.)

    You are renting a connection with all the limitations and monitoring that that entails (which you should have been made aware of in a signed agreement that laid it all out) just like when you sign up for an ISP (UK Universities connect onto a common fibre backbone and so the inter-Uni network is the closest thing to a traditional ISP that a student on campus will have and so they have the same access and responsibility to monitoring and filtering as an ISP). If someone is abusing their position of trust inside the University staff to look up details of browsing for their own gratification then that would be grounds for termination as that data is private (we know what you're doing, but we'll keep that info confidential unless you're breaking rules and then we may have to share the information at any formal hearing (which may itself be confidential) if you dispute the claims made against you). I'd advise your friend to be careful how he uses that access as it wouldn't be at all strange for the monitoring software to be logging all activity and so the watcher is also being watched to make sure he is doing his job and not prying.

  • @Jayross: I actually work, as a student programmer, in the part of my Uni that does the monitoring and also handles DMCA violation complaints.

    The reason we do monitoring at our university is to enforce our bandwidth limits. We don't allow students to use more than a certain amount of usage for download/upload per week (I think its 30 GB a week total right now). The main reason that the bandwidth limit is in place is to help deter people from pirating. An auxiliary reason is to prevent any single user from hogging up the whole network. We've adjusted the bandwidth limits over time as more technologies use up more bandwidth, but still find that only a fairly small percentage of students ever actually hit them.

    We don't do any specific site blocking, because doing that would make our liability when it comes to DMCA violations questionable. Right now we fall under some clause that lets us be anonymous carries as far as traffic is concerned. Basically, as long as we forward complaints and legal notices to end users (students and anyone else on the network) then we aren't liable for any pirating they do. Sort of a "don't ask don't tell" policy. If we starting blocking specific sites I think that we wouldn't fall into that category anymore.

    The only information we keep any records of are the network usage statistics. We don't keep info on what sites have been visited or etc, due to the same reasons listed above.

    The whole "being able to see what websites someone is using" isn't really a privacy concern that is exclusive to a university. Any network you connect through can see what places you are visiting. You can use things like ToR to obscure it, but given enough information from the networks you are connecting through that can still be reversible. It's just something you have to accept about the internet. If you are connecting to the internet it is always theoretically possible for someone to track where you are going on the internet. If you are paranoid about it then you should use ToR and various encryption methods to make it harder to track.

  • I don't really know to what extent my school filters/blocks, and don't try to find out because I feel like it would be unfortunate to be banned from the network or something.

    They don't block Reddit/Social Networks, but I have had to change my laptop's settings back to using the DNS the network give it because if I set it to use GoogleDNS or OpenDNS I just get error pages if I try to access websites saying that it couldn't connect to the site.

    I think it's perfectly fine for businesses and schools to block things on their networks because ultimately, they can be held liable for things people do using their network.

  • Another issue: Steam won't login when connected to university Internet :/
  • @Jayross said:

    What are the Internet privacy laws like in Canada?

    Interesting you should say that: there's actually a bit of controversy over our governing party trying to implement legislation that would allow for unwarranted monitoring of personal internet traffic.

    With regards to the schools: they can monitor what you are doing on their network, but - to my knowledge - they aren't allowed to keep your personal information (i.e. bank account numbers, login information, etc.). I think an analogy is helpful: if your friend came over and downloaded a big pile of child pornography on your network, the cops would be banging down your door before his; now you expand the analogy to include several thousand people (students, teachers, staff, etc.), piracy, and all the other mischief that people get up to online, and you can easily see why a university might want to keep tabs on what kind of stuff is going on under their IP.

  • @Jayross
    Another issue: Steam won't login when connected to university Internet :/
    I hate that. It makes it impossible for me to chat with most of the friends I would chat with. The friend I talk to online the most only uses steam for chat and doesn't have a phone so I can't text him during my free time between classes.

    It's not ad big an issue as it could be because we both go to community colleges and can use steam at home obviously.
  • My university monitors traffic; it kind of has to, with 48,000 of us on campus and only so much bandwidth to go around. They're pretty strict about piracy as well; I know a guy who got kicked out for downloading a season of the office or something (which is pretty fucking extreme, but they set the polices and let you know up front. I've also got a hunch that it wasn't his first run in with academic affairs). The only way to get onto the network is to connect through a VPN, which uses your university username. At least we can get into Steam/Netflix!

    My advice? Live off campus and get your own interweb if it's so much of an issue. Doesn't really apply to Canada, but Comcast doesn't even bother checking to see if we go over our cap each month at my apartment. Any time I need to do something less then legal (and have the weird urge to set it up on campus), I just SSH into my home box, set it up there and enjoy when I get back. Better speeds, too!

  • My university monitors it to a certain extent but, they seem to be more concerned with bandwidth usage than you accessing illegal content. Only time I ever got an warning email from the network administrators was when Portal 2 was released, I downloaded the whole thing in less than a hour and it would have taken days with my connection at home. Like Mirado, you also have to connect through a VPN which uses your university's number as your username.

  • I don't think my school blocks students from visiting specific websites, but I'm not positive. I know they will shut off a student's internet access for a time if they are caught torrenting.

  • I'm sure they do monitor it, because after connecting to the WiFi network, users need to sign in with a personal account in order to get internet access. I avoid the issue entirely by just tethering to my smartphone, which is my primary internet connection these days in any case.

  • Mine does (they block logging into Steam). They recently redid the whole system and I've been having nothing but trouble with connecting. Some days I can do whatever I want, and other days the only website I can connect to is the university site (as in, not even supplementary websites required for my courses or the site for online classes). It's been such a headache that I've resorted to tethering to my phone most of the time.

  • Ohio State used to require a log-in, but they don't anymore, so the only identifier is the IP address, which is nearly useless at a school as big as OSU. They still send out the 'bittorrent is illegal' email every few months, but they have no way of knowing who is torrenting and nobody (to the best of my knowledge) has been disciplined (and I work in the tech department, so I would have heard about it).