Device Snares Adams Network

Many students in Adams House temporarily lost Internet access over the weekend after someone improperly connected a device—most likely a wireless router—to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) network.

“Much of the house has lost internet access,” the Adams House Committee (HoCo) wrote in an e-mail sent to Adams House residents late Sunday night.

Kevin S. Davis ’98, director of residential computing for FAS, said such disruptions most commonly result when students incorrectly plug their own wireless routers or access points—which are prohibited by Harvard FAS Computer Services (HASCS) rules—into the network.

According to Davis, such devices are meant to provide wireless Internet access by connecting to a valid IP address. The devices can then provide access to nearby computers by distributing “fake” IP addresses, which are not valid on their own.

Problems arise when students connect the wrong port of the device to their ethernet jack, causing these “fake” IP addresses to be broadcast over the wired network.

Computers connected to the FAS network must automatically obtain a new IP address every few hours. If a computer attempting to do this is near a device broadcasting erroneous IP addresses—in the same House, for example—one of these “fake” IP addresses typically reaches that computer before a valid address from the network server does, Davis said.

This type of problem “won’t affect an entire building at once,” said Davis, who is also a Crimson editor. Rather, he said, such outages are more comparable to a “rolling blackout.”

Adams HoCo Chair Connie Zong ’06 wrote in an e-mail to The Crimson yesterday that “several emails [were] sent over our open list by people who were working on papers and couldn’t get their internet to work” on Sunday night.

“It sounded like several entryways of Adams were offline,” Zong wrote, adding that the exact number of residents affected by the outage was unknown.

Davis said the staff of the FAS computer help desk is “very familiar with this problem.”

He said technicians who can “investigate and respond” to network disruptions are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

In order to correct network disruptions like the one that affected Adams House—which occur in College dorms once every one to two weeks—Davis said the improperly-connected device must be removed from the network.

“As a courtesy, we try to reach [the person responsible]” and ask him or her to disconnect the device, Davis said. He said that if the individual cannot be contacted, his or her roommates are asked to disconnect the offending computer.

As a last resort, Davis said HASCS can have the ethernet jack electronically disconnected.

Davis said the possibility of network disruptions is one of the main reasons for the prohibition against students’ setting up their own wireless networks on campus.

“We’re sorry this happened to the students in Adams,” he said. “This is something that we certainly do want to get students educated about campus-wide so these problems don’t crop up.”

—Staff writer Matthew S. Lebowitz can be reached at mslebow@fas.harvard.edu.