Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2005

CIRT blocks access to Facebook.com (Daily Lobo)
By Caleb Fort

Nikiyah Gill tried to visit Facebook.com from Dane Smith Hall last week, but a message popped up saying the page could not be found.

After she tried to visit the site from two more computers, she decided to call CIRT.

CIRT told her she could not visit the site using the UNM network, she said.

"CIRT told me that it was legal issues, and that's all they could disclose," she said. "They said someone higher up said the Facebook was no longer allowed."

The site allows users to post a picture of themselves, as well as personal information such as phone numbers, class schedules and favorite music, movies and books. Users can send messages to each other and post comments on an individual's page.

Jeff Gassaway, a security administrator for CIRT, said the site was blocked for several reasons. He said the site regularly sent large amounts of unsolicited e-mail to the University's faculty, staff and students, which slows down University servers. He said CIRT regularly blocks sites and computers that send out a lot of spam.

He said UNM's legal counsel also had concerns with the site.

UNM originally blocked a site called UNM Facebook in mid-August. The site mimicked the color scheme and design of the official UNM Web site, including a UNM logo. He said the legal counsel was concerned with copyright and trademark infringement.

He did not know the exact relationship between UNM Facebook and Facebook, but they are somehow linked, he said.

CIRT was concerned with the site because it required students to use their UNM Net ID to register, Gassaway said. He said because the site looked similar to the UNM site, several students used the same password for their Facebook account as for their UNM e-mail account.

"If it didn't mandate the use of UNM credentials, nobody would really care about it," he said. "But they're kind of encroaching on UNM's data stewardship responsibilities."

He said the site is not secure and it would be easy for someone to steal a password, which they could use to access a student's UNM account.

Representatives from Facebook were unavailable to comment on Tuesday.

Catherine Luther, CIRT spokeswoman, said students who used the same password for UNM's site and Facebook should immediately change the password to their UNM account.

Gassaway said the detailed personal information available on the site could make students targets for identity theft as well as stalking.

"There are people out there whose intent is perhaps not as socially desirable as it could be," he said. "We don't want by any means to be fear mongering, but identity theft is a real concern."

Gill said UNM should have given students more warning before blocking the site.

"It was kind of like it was just done, without asking anyone or giving a reason," she said.

Gill, who is president of UNM's Black Student Union, said she uses the site to keep in touch with members and to talk with similar groups across the country. She said if UNM is going block sites in the future, students should be more involved with the process.

"They obviously should let students know," she said. "Maybe have a formal debate on what the pros and cons would be of banning it."

Student Ralph Arellanes said UNM should allow complete access to the Internet.

"The Internet - it's about freedom of speech," he said. "We're adults, not children. This sounds like elementary school."

Gassaway said Facebook is the only site CIRT blocks.

"I think this was a special, specific case," he said. "I don't think the intent is to block access to public Web space."

Gassaway said blocking the site is a temporary solution until UNM can educate students about the risks of the site.

He said it is up to the Dean of Student's office and UNM's legal counsel if, and when, the site will be unblocked.

Susan McKinsey
Public Affairs Department
MSC01 1170
Hodgin Hall, 2nd floor
Albuquerque, NM 87131-0011
Telephone: (505) 277-5813, Fax: (505) 277-1981