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   from the issue of October 13, 2005

  Cyber Patrol

Alumnus vies to protect UNL network


Zac Reimer is trying to maintain order along UNL's online frontier.

Zac Reimer, network security analyst for Information Services, stands next to a handful of the servers that handle e-mail traffic...
 Zac Reimer, network security analyst for Information Services, stands next to a handful of the servers that handle e-mail traffic at UNL. Reimer, a 1998 UNL graduate, has been working for the university for the past two years. While striving to keep the network clear of viruses and other attacks, Reimer must also maintain an open system necessary for the free flow of information at a research university. Photo by Troy fedderson/University Communications.

Hired two years ago, Reimer is a network security analyst for Information Services. His job - armed with security software and an eye on e-mail volume tallies - is to maintain the free flow of online communication necessary for a research institution while protecting against external, and sometimes internal, attacks.

"Protecting the network has been an interesting challenge," said Reimer, a 1998 UNL graduate. "Some of the things we're doing are still in progress. But, one of the best ways to deal with security is to educate the end users.

"People need to be aware of the potential of attacks, because no matter how good our technology is, there are tricks to get around it."

Reimer said important systems at UNL - such as those that include employee and student information - maintain a tight security net that includes firewalls and limited access. However, the rest of campus is relatively unprotected with just a few firewalls at key locations.

"We have put some restrictive measures in place where they are appropriate," Reimer said. "However, we still have to keep things open to allow for academic needs.

"That is what makes this job an interesting challenge."

Reimer said most initial attacks on the UNL system are virus based. While some attacks are destructive, Reimer said many are aimed at opening back doors into campus computers to gain access to the UNL system.

"They don't care if the virus is cleaned out or not," Reimer said of attackers. "By opening that back door, they can come in and install whatever they want."

Those types of attacks are aimed at modifying computers to issue spam mail or into servers for downloading movie files.

"Those two are the most common because we have so much bandwidth available," Reimer said.

In terms of numbers, Reimer said those types of attacks occur in the "double digits" every week. The vast majority is associated with PCs that use operating systems that are more vulnerable than those on Macintosh computers.

Due to the vast amount of e-mail traffic flowing through the university, Reimer said many problems are identified by user complaints. However, spikes in outgoing e-mail do draw investigations from Reimer and other computer technicians across campus.

"With the size of network connection that we have, analyzing traffic is not a trivial matter," Reimer said. "What we watch for are high volumes. We'll have a computer that's not sending anything out one day, then it will send out 100 megabytes of mail in the first couple hours of the next day."

The UNL system also relies on some intrusion detection systems, however Reimer said education is the best security measure.

"I've personally done several speaking engagements across campus and I feel those have helped," Reimer said. "But, ideally what we need is more formal training and education in regards to security on campus. But that won't happen overnight because it takes time and money."

Shortly after Reimer joined UNL in August 2003, a number of campus computers were hit by a major virus outbreak.

A similar virus attack - one at the international level - was projected with the start of classes in August.

"We got hit pretty hard in 2003 and it is something that we've been working to avoid," Reimer said. "And, I think we were pretty successful because we didn't get hit badly by the virus outbreak this fall."

One of the reasons for avoiding the bug was a campus wide push to make students download new antivirus software before they could log onto the UNL network.

"Along with putting some patches in place on Windows machines, I think that allowed us to be reasonably protected," Reimer said. "That's what the risk management game is all about - protecting our system the best we can with the resources we have in place."

Reimer said he is willing to speak on computer security issues. Those interested can contact him at 472-4826 or .

As October is Cyber Security Awareness Month, UNL faculty and staff are encouraged to familiarize themselves with basic security ideas available online at



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