New software keeps tabs on network uses

Jodi Genshaft

Northwestern will launch a new computer network tracking system today in two dorms, giving administrators more power to crack down on file sharing and computer virus outbreaks across campus.

If the system runs smoothly in 1835 Hinman and Jones Residential College, NU’s Information Technology will apply it in all dorms this quarter.

Network Registration, or Net-Reg, links a user’s computer port with the user’s NetID and Internet Protocol address, which identifies a computer on the Internet. This allows NUIT officials to contact students directly if network security has been threatened rather than just shutting off access without prior notification.

Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, security violations include computer viruses and complaints from outside the university. The act, championed by the software and entertainment industries, makes it illegal to trade pirated files or software online.

Students and faculty involved with the decision said NU wouldn’t use NetReg to monitor MP3 sharing.

Prashant Velagaleti, Associated Student Government technology director, said NetReg is a customer service tool that will allow university computer technicians to better pinpoint where a closed port is located and reactivate that port in just a day as opposed to the six or seven days it usually takes.

But Velagaleti said monitoring student activities online is “a quagmire the university would never get into.”

“The university is not interested in monitoring anything unless it negatively affects the network,” said Velagaleti, a McCormick senior. “(But) if you’re serving up MP3s and illegal movies, that will catch their attention because of the bandwidth it takes up.”

Until now, NUIT officials were unable to contact users during either security or maintenance problems, forcing officials to disable a student’s computer network port.

“It’s a big hassle when someone’s port gets shut off,” said Joseph Zadeh, McCormick junior and senior residential networking consultant. “(In) most cases, it’s a student who didn’t know what was going on.”

Students will not be allowed to use Internet services – including e-mail, the World Wide Web and AOL Instant Messenger. They will register on the NetReg Web site using their NetIDs and passwords.

Registration for the system is required only once, unless users changes their network cards.

The system is intended only for residence halls, but it could be applied to NU’s public network jacks, including those in University Library.

The NetReg system was introduced at a Jan. 17 meeting of ASG’s Information Technology Advisory Committee.

Residents of 1835 Hinman and Jones were notified by fliers on Saturday.

The Daily’s Jerome C. Pandell contributed to this story.