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Hackers target UAlbany Blackboard with denial-of-service attacks

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Internet hackers continue to target University at Albany information technology systems with cyber-attacks.

University systems recently experienced a total of 17 distributed denial-of-service, or DDoS, attacks in the space of two weeks, including threats as recent as Feb. 19.

DDoS attacks flood a network with malicious requests, disrupting normal data flow between servers and legitimate users.

“Altogether, since February 5, there have been 17 separate instances where the volume of inbound internet traffic has exceeded the carrying capacity of our [internet service provider] for 5 minutes or longer,” said UAlbany’s chief information security officer Martin Manjak.

The DDoS attacks impact the availability of several campus information technology systems, most notably Blackboard. Neither the integrity nor confidentiality of university information was compromised, according to Manjak.

Mark Berman serves as the chief information officer at nearby Siena College in Loudonville, New York. “We have not experienced anything like that,” said Berman. “If there was any DDOS activity our firewall dealt with it without any need for our intervention.”

Manjak, who has served as UAlbany’s chief information security officer since 2006, believes the string of attacks may be related. No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks and a motive has not been identified.

“All we know is that the resource being targeted is Blackboard,” Manjak said.

Computers on the university’s network, such as those in the library, were not affected by the attack. Students and faculty using personal devices were unable to access Blackboard.

“We’re able to maintain access to electronic resources from on-campus through a combination of firewall and filtering rules,” Manjak said, “but access from off-campus was affected because the attacker(s) filled our internet pipe.”

Students were unable to access course materials and submit homework assignments on Blackboard during the attacks.

“I had problems getting on Blackboard when I was trying to do some homework,” senior chemistry major Jennifer Cabrera said. “It all made sense when they sent the email. I didn’t know there was a cyber-attack until then.”

Members of the campus community received two information security alerts by email from Manjak regarding the attacks—one on February 5 and the other on February 18.

“Communication is sent to the University community when we identify an active threat that has the potential to impact the entire campus,” Manjak said.

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