The Mason Spirit: The Magazine for Alumni and Friends of George Mason University George Mason University

Disk Doctors

Alumni help keep Mason's network safe

By Kurt Ankeny-Beauchamp

In fall 2003, George Mason University had to temporarily cut off Internet access to 3,600 resident students to try to protect the school's computer network from a wave of viruses and worms that was slowing it to a standstill.

To ensure that a similar crisis didn't reoccur at the beginning of this academic year, a team from the university's Information Technology Unit (ITU), which included recent Mason graduates Adnan Hameed, BS Computer Science '03, and Jorge Martinez, BS Computer Science '04, spent the past year working hard to find ways to protect Mason's network. And the hard work paid off. During Move-In 2004, more than 4,000 students plugged into the Mason network without any major problems.

ITU's solution was the Mason Update and Scanning Tool (MUST), a collection of programs that ensures the university's computer network stays safe. Developed in less than a year's time, the MUST system first places students' computers in a quarantined network isolated from each other and the Mason network so that if they harbor viruses, they can't infect other computers. A computer program then scans each student's computer's files, looking for the tell-tale lines of code that indicate the presence of viruses and worms and checks to make sure the student is running the top-of-the-line anti-virus software that is free to all students.

If any viruses are found or the correct anti-virus software is not installed, the MUST system helps the student remedy the problems on his or her computer. Once the computer is certified clean, it can then connect to the Mason network.

Hameed and Martinez helped program and deploy the MUST system. They also lent their technical expertise this past fall to the Get Wired team, computer troubleshooters who help with Move-In each year.

"In comparison [to 2003], this year's experience was spectacular," says Hameed, "I believe it's fair to say that the MUST program ran smoother than expected. It solved many of the problems that we ran into during past years."

In addition, connected PCs were checked for all Windows updates, had the university-provided Norton Anti-Virus software installed, and were cleaned of any worms or viruses.

"I continue to see the impressive results of this project in terms of the low number of trouble calls we receive from students because the issues were addressed with the MUST program," says Hameed.

Another Mason graduate who played a role in developing the MUST system was Nicole Melander, PhD Information Technology '99, who heads Microsoft's Higher Education Strategy Group. She was instrumental in getting Microsoft's permission to allow the university to install patches on students' computers.

And on a side note, the Washington Post writer who reported the shut down of Mason's network in the newspaper in fall 2003 was also a Mason alumnus: Brian Krebs, BA International Studies '94.