District blocks websites

Malware defense causes issues


Adria Watson and Perry Continente

The Contra Costa Community College District has implemented a cybersecurity update to guarantee protection of student information. But with these precautions came website restrictions.

An anonymous Los Medanos College student recently complained that he was unable to access a website due to it not being “in accordance with company policy,” according to the message displayed on the page.

Members of the LMC Experience staff verified that various sites are inaccessible, including adult and weapon sites as well as a college humor site.

According to district Director of Information Technology Satish Warrier, the updates began in the district office Oct. 19 and made their way throughout the district in the weeks following — LMC received the update Nov. 8 — but as of press time students, faculty and staff had been uninformed about the changes made.

The computers in the LMC Library are often utilized not just by LMC students but also by members of the general public. Library Director Christina Goff said she was unaware of the changes with the update.

“Occasionally we have had issues

 with library users accessing material that violates the library’s behavioral use policy,” said Goff adding, “but those instances are fairly rare. We do not block access to any websites and are against that kind of filtering.”

District Chancellor Fred Wood addressed the situation Thursday explaining that the updates made to the district network are not intended to restrict content but instead to protect it from malware, but acknowledges a lack of communication about the recent changes.

“I think we all believe at this point we could’ve done a far better job communicating this to folks,” said Wood. “We’re trying to do our best to get that out fairly soon so that folks know ‘why would you do this?’ and addressing those questions and I think we could’ve done that better so I want to own that.”

According to Warrier, the new firewall used in the network is provided by Palo Alto Networks and the total cost is $727,046 — this covers all campuses in the district and includes both a firewall that protects against malware and a URL block that blocks specific sites.

“The software, to my understanding, is not making any moral determinations,” said Wood. “What it looks for are websites that are problematic from a technological standpoint.”

Wood continued saying that these problematic sites are “sites that contain this kind of content that we know are prevalent in malware sites.”

Warrier explained that sites blocked are “not divided by legality, but by risk,” explaining “this is not a moral issue.”

The web pages blocked, however, feature descriptors like “weapons,” “questionable” and “adult” instead of mentioning risk, and seem to have little connection to malware susceptibility.

The website collegehumor.com is blocked but some sites that distribute pirated videos — like gorrilavid.in and putlocker.movie which the Digital Citizens Alliance and cybersecurity expert RiskIQ found to be extreme sources of malware — remain untouched.

When asked about the labels Wood responded “the categorization is done by the vendor.”

Warrier added that “the system is not 100% accurate,” citing the possibility of technical error.

Warrier addressed the possible restriction of educational materials, explaining that “right now the instructors just email us and say ‘we need this site unblocked for instructional purposes’ and we unblock it.”

He cited an example where a sexual studies professor needed a site unblocked and it was fixed in “under 30 minutes.”

These blocks extend to all Wi-Fi usage on campus, including smart phones.

“If a mobile device connects to the network, it is regulated, but if you are on your cellular data we have no control,” explained Warrier.

If you encounter an inaccessible website on the college network please let us know by pasting the URL into the reader comments area attached to the online version of this story at lmcexperience.com.