According to Director of Networking and Telecommunications Jason Lavoie, over 25 unauthorized Wi-fi access points have been installed since the beginning of the academic year, mainly in dorms, and are now causing problems with the network as a whole.
According to Chief Information Officer Mitch Davis and Lavoie, this has resulted in poorer service for the rest of the community.
Though Information Technology (IT) could turn off the unauthorized access points on their own, Davis said he hopes to instead encourage collaboration between students and IT in tackling this issue, a sentiment he outlined in an email to the college on November 15.
The Bowdoin wireless network, according to Davis, is made up of over 400 authorized access points across campus, each of which receives the network’s full bandwidth and divides it among the members of the community connected to it. These access points communicate with each other so that when a person enters a new space, she receives her wireless connection through the nearest access point with the least amount of people on it.
The personal access points that students install provide them with the entire, undivided bandwidth of the wireless network, but interfere with the communication between the authorized access points—causing the wireless association of nearby users to come and go. The effect is magnified in areas where multiple personal access points are present. This can almost entirely drown out the Bowdoin network.
According to Cisco Systems Engineer Greg Costanzo, a representative from the vendor that provides Wi-fi to campus, the installation of unauthorized access points also threatens the security of the network by providing potential avenues through which outsiders can connect to and harm the Bowdoin network.
“When you put up a standalone access point,” Costanzo said, “You’re basically vouching for anyone who connects to it—they’re accessing the network as though they are you, so if they do unlawful activity, then that’s going to show up as being on your shoulders.”
As a first step in addressing the problem, Davis is asking students to turn off—not simply disconnect—all personal access points. He has also brought the issue to the attention of the Bowdoin Student Government.
“I’ll give it until when people get back from Christmas,” Davis said. “We’ll do a scan then and if people don’t turn them off, [Dean of Student Affairs] Tim Foster and I will probably go talk to them.”
Davis has turned off people’s personal access points occasionally in previous years, but the problem has become more noticeable this year, largely because of an upgrade in the network that took place this summer.
“[Because of the upgrade] we know what port they’re connected to and what room it’s in, and even the people in the room,” Davis said. “Before, we only knew [the access points] were somewhere on the network and we would have to take a wireless scanner through a building to find it.”
Davis said he intends to preserve the privacy of students, and hopes he does not have to take it that far.
To improve Wi-fi coverage around campus without hurting the network, Davis said that students should call him or report dead zones to the Internet Technology Advisory Council (ITAC), a group that meets weekly to solve these problems.
“[The network is] just new, so it still needs some additional access points to fill out the spaces and the goal is to listen to students to make that happen,” Davis said. “But we need people to talk to us—otherwise we can’t fix it.”
Davis and Lavoie have 40 additional access points they can add to the campus network to increase its coverage or capacity at any moment, and can receive another 85 “at the drop of a hat,” according to Davis.