Shai Wolman, a 23-year-old English literature student, glares at his laptop in disbelief as he is repeatedly denied connection to the campus wireless network, an issue the Information Technology Department (IT) is taking great pains to address with the limited funding available.
With a college curriculum and campus lifestyle increasingly dependant on Internet connections for laptops and smartphones, students and faculty turn on their computers each day, attempting to connect to the complex web of wireless hotspots that keep the campus jacked in.
The implementation of an overhaul to the campus wireless network, designed to better address the needs of a tech-heavy campus, has brought growing pains and some outages. Changes came due to requests by the community to make wireless access easier.
‘CSUN adopted the new browser-based wireless authentication system to provide a familiar and user-friendly login interface for wireless users, to eliminate the cumbersome initial set-up process of registering a MAC/Hardware address, and to streamline wireless access for large groups of visitors at campus events and conferences,’ said Chris Olsen, IT director of user support services for the university.
A wireless network experiencing problems in a modern college curriculum means more than just having to wait until getting home to check e-mail. Students interviewed said the issue has improved since the beginning of the semester, though problems connecting and with network speed still exist.
‘The old wireless network was great. The signal strength was great and you could connect anywhere. I really like the new login system, I just have problems with signal strength, and connecting,’ said 22-year-old Kris Huelgas, an English creative writing major.
Wireless signals are strongest in buildings used for teaching, as well as in certain hotspots such as Arbor Court and the Sierra Center, Olsen said. The IT department had not anticipated the greatly-increased number of devices attempting to connect to the network this semester.
‘To maintain good performance for wireless users, the campus will need to fund additional wireless network hardware,’ Olsen said. ‘Without the addition of more wireless hardware, as more devices are connected to the wireless network, students may experience slower performance, depending on the density of usage in a given wireless area,’
Fourth-year CSUN student Sabrina Dertsakyan, 24, said the new browser-based login system makes her life easier, though she hopes for future improvements.
‘It is kind of annoying having to log on every time I connect to the Internet. I wish we only had to connect once per day,’ Dertsakyan said.
Some in the industry say a Web browser-based login system brings security concerns.
Aaron Edwards has worked for more than five years as a network systems administrator in the Los Angeles area, recently founding Syntax Computing, a San Gabriel Valley-based custom computer building and network installations company.
Edwards said the new login system, which allows CSUN community members to log into the network through a web browser on any WiFi-equipped device rather than requiring a visit to the IT Help Desk for setup, has an inherent security flaw.
‘The main disadvantage for a browser-based login is that it only allows for surface-level security. Those who are technically inclined already have access to the network. If they want to implement the best network security, you can’t do that through a browser-based login system,’ Edwards said.
IT urges students to never share their username and password with anyone for any reason. The CSUN campus WebMail system, as well the myNorthridge portal and WebCT online class services, are protected by additional layers of security encryption.
Regardless of security measures taken, Edwards said, no wireless network is 100 percent safe from a hacker’s attempts to compromise it.
‘Any network can be overthrown. There is no such thing as a truly secure network, there are simply different levels of security,’ Edwards said.
As the campus community continues to grow in size and technological demands, IT attempts to maintain speed and security levels by updating their network systems accordingly. Some problems, Olsen said, can be solved through reconfiguring a wireless-equipped device to run at its best.
The department encourages those who need assistance with configuration to call the IT Help Desk at 677-1400 or bring their laptop or other wireless devices to the Computer Support Walk-In Center located in the lower level of the Oviatt Library, Room 29.