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A possible security breach or system overload cut off many students' access to PennNet. Many Penn students experienced technological glitches while using the Internet for the past two days, finding themselves unable to use software like instant message service ICQ. Penn officials say that most of the difficulties were a result of an investigation into a series of potential security breaches on the network, which forced the Office of Information Systems and Computing to place a block on many PennNet services. Security violations could include hackers entering PennNet. Hackers can automate several computers to send all data stored on them to a single computer system and thereby place an overflow of information into the system. ISC Vice Provost Jim O'Donnell, a Classical Studies professor, said officials are looking into a series of security-related incidents, though he declined to elaborate on what they were. Whatever the cause, for the past two days Penn put a block on certain services to check if they were the source of security problems. O'Donnell said the block has been mainly lifted, but he would not say if the root of the problem had been discovered. He explained that if hackers were to access the system, possible security problems could be denial of service attacks -- programs designed to generate enough traffic on the network so that they deny access to the network's legitimate users. Denial of service attacks include attempts to flood a network with traffic, to disrupt connections between two or more machines, to prevent a particular individual from accessing a service and to disrupt service to a specific system or person. "One of the challenges these days is you're not sure what clever ideas people can come up with to do with the Internet," O'Donnell said. Another possible cause of the network traffic is PennNet users' use of new audio and video services. But O'Donnell doubts that is a problem. Napster -- a popular Internet service that allows quick downloads of megabytes of music -- has been a burden on some college networks by draining bandwidth away from regular applications, such as Web browsing. "We haven't seen [Napster] as a real big problem here yet," he said. O'Donnell said traffic problems sometimes go unnoticed for long periods of time. But for the past year, ISC has utilized new network monitoring software, which notifies staff as soon as a technical difficulty is detected. O'Donnell said most people found out about the problems from a statement he posted on the PennNet-announce listserv and newsgroup and experienced few or no difficulties. Traffic issues are "part of the challenge of living on the Internet," but similar problems have not occurred in recent years, O'Donnell said.

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