University Unintentionally Blocks Graphic Websites

Category:  News
Thursday, March 24th, 2016 at 8:30 AM

Earlier this month, students on the university network may have been faced with blocked websites, ones which centered around mature content.

Upon investigation, it was found that the blocking of the websites was temporary. Those that were blocked should be accessible again, but may show a warning screen (which can be clicked through) that alerts students they are entering a “High Risk” area.

The sites were to be blocked through a 30- day testing period of a program through the company, Palo Alto Networks, which uses a database of websites that companies may want blocked, in order to stop or impede web traffic. This database can allow users to implement limitations on access to content such as blocking it out completely or by giving the warning before viewing the website.

The program was set up and began running on March 2. The default settings of the program blocked a variety of websites. Websites containing pornographic material were automatically blocked and received the most feedback from the student body.

“We downloaded the subscription, and it was late in the day, perhaps that afternoon and some of the default settings actually blocked some of it — it does it by category — and it might say ‘weapons,’ [so] a whole category of items might be blocked and some of those settings will activate it for the default. So I didn’t realize that until I saw the petition from students that things were being blocked and it’s like what is going on here? I’m going to say that was around 11 p.m., midnight that evening,” said Karen Murdzak, director of networks and telecommunications at Edinboro University.

“It’s unfortunate that it occurred late in the day, so that it wasn’t until the next day that it was adjusted, but it hadn’t been intentional on part of the university. We are aware of and protective of students’ first amendment rights to content. There are no plans to do anything along these lines,” said Jeff Hileman, director of communications at Edinboro University.

The program is still currently being used with the adjusted settings. Murdzak stated they are field testing it to see if it’s something that peaks interest. She added there are other subscriptions that have been offered to the university, but they just need to find which one has the best application for the university’s network security.

“We don’t have any plans to filter any content. It was just an inadvertent thing that happened. It came out of the box that way,” added Murdzak.

Moving forward, students will only receive a warning informing them they are entering a high risk site, but may click to continue. The only exception will be phishing sites, which will be completely blocked and inaccessible to protect the university’s network security as well as the security of students and faculty. If a student comes to a site with a pop-up block they think is incorrect, they will be asked on the pop-up to contact the help desk and they will look into it.

Karlee Dies is the Managing Editor of News for The Spectator.

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