back to article University of Hertfordshire pulls the plug on, well, everything after cyber attack

The University of Hertfordshire has fallen victim to a cyber attack that has resulted in the establishment pulling all its systems offline to deal with the situation. The result has been a suspension of all online teaching today and in-person, on-campus teaching only happening if computer access is not required. The university …

  1. b0llchit Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Learning without a computer

    Before you call me an old fart, please hear me out...

    Only "few" years ago it was actually possible to learn without having a computer. We would use pen, paper, pencil, typewriter and, especially, a brain. But the computer and networks have taken over large parts of the brain. Therefore, we have become more stupid. Real intelligence has been falling as a consequence of using the computer. First it was corona that made learning impossible. Now we have no computer/network and learning becomes impossible. Soon we need an excuse to actually go back to learning. It is too easy just to sit and wait.

    Ranting done, finger firmly secured alongside body and no longer waiving and pointing. Book secured alongside this computer (yes, the irony). Now you may call me an old fart.

    1. Roger Greenwood

      Re: Learning without a computer

      What's a book?

      (I fear this will cease to be a joke in another generation...)

      1. b0llchit Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: Learning without a computer

        We already have a current generation that cannot (hand-)write anymore. They do not write letters and words, but they draw them (badly and often only all caps). It is painful and embarrassing to see when they need to write something on the (white)board. And no spell-checker! They need the auto-correct to think for them.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: Learning without a computer

          At 76 I've been a member of that generation for decades I never could read my own handwriting. The very first purchase with my grant was a cheap second hand typewriter. I'm not sure where it is now. Last time i saw it it had started suffering from woodworm.

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: Learning without a computer

            Since retiring I've spent a lot of time (apart form wasting it here) on historical research. My library is very largely on my laptop, downloaded from archive.org. Perhaps if I were actually a university student I might have access to a library with a reasonable subset of those books but even then I'd have to share them with other readers If, at 10 to midnight I want to consult, say, volume II of Yorkshire Deeds I can do so with a few clicks; if I were dependent on a library I'd have to wait until morning.

            Yes, I love books, would be quite happy living in a library and feel a twitch if I see a nice set of oak card-file cabinets like those I used to use in the Science Library years ago but in practical terms the real benefit of a library would be those holding archives of material that hasn't yet been published or digitised.

          2. DJV Silver badge

            Re: I never could read my own handwriting

            Indeed! And it predates the likes of us as well. I remember my mother (born in 1919) once asking me if I could read something she'd written as she couldn't read it herself. I definitely inherited that "talent" as well.

      2. herman Silver badge

        Re: Learning without a computer

        Here you go - tech support for those stuck in the dark ages: https://youtu.be/pQHX-SjgQvQ

    2. John Robson Silver badge

      Re: Learning without a computer

      Old fart - I heartily agree that pen and paper has a good place.

      But to be honest the amount of stuff that is made easier, and more like the outside world, by being done on computer is quite large.

      I had a Psion 5mx at uni, that was a really nice note taking device - I imagine I would be using a tablet and bluetooth keyboard now though - the ability to grab a stylus and write equations or draw quick sketches is nice.

      A Remarkable might even be a good choice.

      1. b0llchit Silver badge
        Childcatcher

        Re: Learning without a computer

        But to be honest the amount of stuff that is made easier, and more like the outside world, by being done on computer is quite large.

        Agreed! The "old days" were not better. The "old days" were different. The skill-set you need today is different from 20..40 years ago.

        There are advantages, especially learning and operational advantages, when you know more than swiping and looking for known answers online. Part of those skills are called training, understanding, knowledge and wisdom. The computer and online answers and search engines give you none of these skills.

    3. trev101

      Re: Learning without a computer

      20 years ago I did computer science without a laptop or personal computer. The university had a Solaris lab and database module was based on Ingres. Long hours in the lab and library made me succeed. And this was before we had a pocket computer (touch phone).

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Learning without a computer

        I generally agree but a pocket computer would generally have a proper system compiler on it.

        That touch phone you are referring to is largely a locked down appliance. A book and paper is actually comparable in terms of usefulness.

        That Solaris lab (Sun Rays?) would still be the best resource to learn from. "The network is the computer".

        1. katrinab Silver badge
          Meh

          Re: Learning without a computer

          I can run Jupyter, clang and similar on my iPad. Probably I could do it on my iPhone as well, but the screen is a bit small for my middle-aged eyes.

          The iPad Air 4 is actually the fastest Python-running machine I own, considerably faster than my i9-9980HK MacBook Pro.

    4. chivo243 Silver badge
      Windows

      Re: Learning without a computer

      +1 from another old grumpy git...

      When I graduated from HS in the US, back in the early 80s, there were three computers in our school, used by the Special Education department. As far as I remember the offices had IBM selectric typewriters, and yes, I took a touch typing class, and it was probably the most valuable skill I learned in HS... I am the only guy on my team that has that skill, all others hunt and poke.

    5. cantankerous swineherd Silver badge

      Re: Learning without a computer

      computers are fine if not connected to the internet. if you do connect something, expect to lose it and start again with another one.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Learning without a computer

        "computers are fine if not connected to the internet. if you do connect something, expect to lose it and start again with another one."

        According to Battlestar Galactica, you should also only use hardwired telephones, although ship-to-ship radio seems to be alright ....

        But definitely never, never, never connect your computer to a network. Except when the script requires it.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: never connect your computer to a network. Except when the script requires it.

          ...or if you happen to be a Cylon :-)

    6. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
      Thumb Down

      Re: Learning without a computer

      Oh, indeed. Explain to us this wonderful remote learning technique that employs only pencil and paper, or have you forgotten the pandemic?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Learning without a computer

        Depending on the course there are often other resources than the University network. As a stop gap they couldn't even see if another uni can cover for them.

        Who doesn't do some of their own learning today?

    7. Plest Bronze badge
      Pint

      Re: Learning without a computer

      Yes and no.

      The problem is that the PR and marketing has been selling computers to Average Joe Sixpack as a miracle device that will do everything except take the rubbish out to the kerb on a Wednesday morning. They've been fed a diet of sci-fi that has taught non-techies that all computers have some form of built-in AI that means they're one step away from taking over at any moment.

      Additionally typical users have been sold a laptop to use much like they'd use a washing machine or fridge, plug it in and it just works. They don't realise that apart from compute power and storage there's zero difference between their modern laptop and a mainframe from the 1950s.

      The rest of we techies know full well that a PC, mobile or tablet is a just a tool and simply does what it's told to and only by what the software developers are capable of making it do, no more.

      1. Ivan Headache

        Re: Learning without a computer

        It’s a good job mine doesn’t take the rubbish out to the kerb on Wednesday.

        The bin men come on Tuesday .

        1. DJV Silver badge

          Re: Learning without a computer

          You're lucky! I have to get up even earlier in the week as mine come on a Monday!

    8. katrinab Silver badge
      WTF?

      Re: Learning without a computer

      Uhm yes. But when you leave university, you will probably want to get something called a job. And that job will most likely involve working on a computer. And the skillset required to do stuff on a computer is very different to doing it by hand.

    9. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Learning without a computer

      > Corona was popular, wasn't it? Sometimes with the legendary lemon slices added

    10. IGotOut Silver badge

      Re: Learning without a computer

      Ahhh the good old days eh?

      When 20 students would have to wait 4 weeks to fight over the out of date book from the library 60 miles down the road.

      Either that or pay £80 or more for an even more out of date book, with someone else incoherent scribblings in the margins.

      Happy days.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Must be a little disturbing that we teach IT but then show how badly we actually do it

    Also 20+ thousand is not a big estate. Government departments have a lot more, maybe they can throw education a bone.

    1. TimMaher Silver badge
      Headmaster

      Money for IT

      And maybe the vice chancellor could give up their 100K pay rise this year?

      Probably not.

      Icon because ———>

    2. John Robson Silver badge

      The september that never ended still hasn't ended.

      They have a *very* high turnover, but it should be a high turnover of the least privileged users.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        a *very* high turnover, but

        There will likely be quite a high turnover of postdoctoral staff as well.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: a *very* high turnover, but

          Like he said, least privileged.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Like he said, least privileged.

            Postdocs will be very unlikely to have access to institutional administrative systems, but they will not infrequently have significant access to HPC systems and teaching systems.

    3. thondwe

      Bastions of Shadow I.T.

      Uni's, especially the older ones (e.g. which weren't once F.E. colleges) are bastions of shadow I.T. - "Academic Freedom" accounts for a lot of D.I.Y. I.T. both on tin and on t'internet. Plus students on their own kit and staff working from home... Throw in some custom research I.T. and big research hardware (Electron Microscopes etc) probably still driven by Windows NT.

      All of which makes security much harder than a huge Government who can deliver locked down standardized devices.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Bastions of Shadow I.T.

        I haven't used non-shadow IT since about 1996. :-)

  3. chivo243 Silver badge
    Unhappy

    Hate to be on that IT team

    Or the team at OVH for that matter. What a crappy position to be in...

  4. Flywheel Silver badge

    universities were prime targets for miscreants but lacked pockets as deep as some enterprises to deal with the threat

    Wot?! The Russell Group's pockets aren't exactly shallow. (I know Herts Uni isn't in there, but it shows the amount of revenue these places bring in).

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      The distribution is not flat. The Russell Group is much richer that many "old polys" and one or two RG universities are much richer than most of the rest and within one of the RG, one of its college's cash piles has to be plotted on logarithmic axes if you want it on the same graph as all the others.

      But actually, all that cash (wherever it lies) is probably not the issue. I suspect that the real issue is that universities have these things called students who are much harder to control (IT security-wise) than employees.

  5. Mike 140

    Also at Portsmouth Uni

    https://www.databreaches.net/uk-university-of-portsmouth-closes-campus-due-to-ransomware-attack/

  6. Grease Monkey Silver badge

    Hope they don't run any cyber security courses...

  7. JassMan Silver badge

    Brave words from the powers that be

    The attack started at 22:00 BST on 14 April and the university has been quick to reassure worried students "that no one will be disadvantaged as a consequence of this."

    How do they know that none of the last backup had already been encrypted? If they don't pay the ransom, any students who don't have their own copy of submitted work will be disadvantaged, especially if they had a cloudy laptop and relied on the Uni supplied cloud rather than their own.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: students who don't have their own copy of submitted work

      Students may well be submitting scans, and be required to retain the original.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Brave words from the powers that be

      Most likely the submissions were feeding turnitin's vast database of papers. You think academic journals are a rip off... TII was recently sold for around 1 billion IIRC cos of that database provided for free by many millions of students.

    3. martyn.hare
      Happy

      TurnItIn keeps copies of work

      As do all the other cloud-based plagiarism checkers as part of integrity protection and facilitating archival to detect future plagiarism. When students do not submit their work using one of these services, they will generally e-mail or submit physical printed copies.

      When e-mailed, the data is generally stored within one of two systems, either Gmail or Exchange Online. Both are backed up by the upstream provider independently of the educational institution. Additionally, both are immune to traditional ransomware attacks.

      Students are unlikely to be disadvantaged in terms of already-submitted work. It's students who are about to submit which are at the biggest risk, unless they've followed the advice of their university library SMEs in both letter and spirit.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: TurnItIn keeps copies of work

        Turnitin only keeps copies of submitted work if the university agrees. Mine does not, for example, and so our students' work is not used for comparisons.

        1. John Robson Silver badge

          Re: TurnItIn keeps copies of work

          "so our students' work is not used for comparisons"

          so our students work is flagged as "don't publically say this was where the plagiarism was detected".

          There is a very strong chance that the work is stored anyway.

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: TurnItIn keeps copies of work

        "It's students who are about to submit which are at the biggest risk, unless they've followed the advice of their university library SMEs in both letter and spirit."

        After KCL immolated their storage without assistance from any malware TPTB were very insistent that in future users should rely on the very services they'd just banjaxed rather than keep their own copies.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "that no one will be disadvantaged as a consequence of this."

    other than no online or offline classes (for starters), no disadvantage whatsofuckingever.

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: "that no one will be disadvantaged as a consequence of this."

      I assume they mean that you will get your degree even though you weren't able to learn any of the course material.

      Whether future employers see that as "no disadvantage" probably depends on how many other universities are similarly affected, and whether this state of affairs lasts for more than a couple of years.

      Right now I'd say that anyone still in full-time education is at something of a disadvantage compared to someone just a year or two older.

      (I'd also like to point out that, despite the UK's recent announcement that unis are re-opening, a lot of them are still telling anyone without a practical element to their course to carry on with the online lectures, either at home or in the digs you've been trapped in since whenever.)

  9. Blackjack Silver badge

    Maybe the pigeon lovers from that other article could rent their birds to send homework to students.

  10. Jamesit

    I remember my mum telling me to get off the computer and do my homework, now it would be get on the computer and get your homework done.

  11. Short Fat Bald Hairy Man
    Childcatcher

    Computers vs Ereaders

    I am all for pen to paper. That level of understanding will not be easy if using only a computer.

    BUT, can have books on ereaders, computers are not required.

    The more restricted the ereader is, the better. Distractions are easy and we end up with everybody doing anything but reading/studying.

    Brutal methods are required. A friend's company supplied phone had the camera physically destroyed to stop photography.

  12. Severus

    Do it right or don't do it at all.

    Perhaps the Universities IT team should attend its own course - FdSc Computing Technologies (Networks and Cybersecurity). The woeful state of cyber security in the UK in both the private and public sector is akin to letting toddlers loose with flamethrowers. There should be independent penetration tests of any system with approved risk treatment plans before it is permitted to go live with mandatory criminal charges when problems like this arise and negligence is proven.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021