Several students manipulated sophomore class registration for the spring semester, causing a brief shutdown of the system, and raising concerns over the integrity of the University of Richmond’s registration process, students said.
After the senior class experienced a 25-minute shutdown of BannerWeb on Oct. 31, the morning of registration, followed by a re-registration period a week later, many sophomores expected the administration to give them the same second try after their registration shut down on Nov. 14 for five minutes.
“I was just so confused, so frustrated — I thought it was the same system error that happened to the seniors," Sophia Bruce, sophomore, said. "I kept trying to reload the page while I was trying to email the registrar’s office."
The sophomore registration shutdown didn't happen in the same way that the seniors’ did, and the school decided not to provide a second registration period.
“With the seniors, it was out and completely down for 25 minutes that morning," Kristen Ball, senior associate registrar for academic history, said. "With the sophomores, it never went down all the way, it just slowed down. And when it came back up, people were still processed in the order that they were in the system."
Danielle Holliday, sophomore, has been speaking with the administration in attempts to understand what happened.
“One of the administrative people I talked to referred to the sophomore registration as a ‘brown out’ of the system as opposed to the seniors' ‘black out’ of the system,” she said.
Because the administration is viewing the sophomore registration problem as a “pause” rather than a complete shutdown, they decided to not have a second registration period, Ball said.
Despite this, many students feel disadvantaged by UR’s decision.
“I was talking to them about the fact that I, along with a lot of other students, was at a clear disadvantage to other students by a fault of the school's system," Holliday said.
Students were further frustrated when it became apparent that the shutdown was a result of a few students hacking into the system.
“A number of students were generating suspicious amounts of activity, resulting in 3,300 registration sessions for only 700 students (almost five times the typical load) and overwhelming the registration system," an email sent to the sophomore class from the registrar office stated. "For some, we detected an ‘inhuman level of activity’ — indicating enhanced (e.g., automated) registration methods.”
Regardless of the fact that the shutdown happened because a few students messed with the system, innocent students should not have to suffer the consequences, Holliday said.
Although BannerWeb is a system used by colleges across the country, UR only pays for a database that can accommodate approximately 3,000 students. The system crashed when 3,300 registration sessions began, Basel Arafat, a sophomore majoring in computer science, said.
It is likely that these 2,400 extra sessions were only created by around a dozen students, Arafat said.
“I actually spoke to someone from information services," Arafat said. "It wasn’t 100 kids who did that. It was only about 20 people who ruined it for everybody."
These 20 people used a simple computer code that processed registration for them, Arafat explained. The code runs by the nanosecond and, if detected, the code will continue to log in each time the system kicks it out, Arafat said.
“The system tracks these inhuman activities and once it finds out that there is inhuman activity — since everything is done in nanoseconds — it will find out this is a computer action," Arafat said. "Their method of stopping this action is basically by making everybody jammed out, so they will filter out which is the computer and which is not the computer.”
The code itself is simple, Arafat said. It is approximately 200 lines long and can be found on coding websites all over the Internet.
“It’s not even hacking, so it won’t be a crime," Arafat said. "Basically, it’s only an honor code violation."
Hacking or not, the students who did this are at risk of facing consequence.
It remains unclear whether UR’s Honor Council will investigate, but it would be fairly easy to determine which students are responsible, because each computer has a unique service code, Arafat said.
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