Increased Security for Off-campus Computers Will Help Thwart Cyberattacks

As part of the University of Illinois' ongoing battle against cyberattacks, Technology Services is implementing changes to how people who are away from campus connect to on-campus resources. These changes will keep our network safe and our services healthy.

What's our next step?

On May 30, 2017, all connections using Secure Shell (SSH) to connect to the Illinois network from off-campus must connect through the University's Virtual Private Network (VPN).

Why are we doing this?

The University of Illinois has experienced cyberattacks that caused some customers to be temporarily locked out of services like email and Skype for Business.

Attackers attempted to access University resources through the Microsoft Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) port on the Illinois network. They used NetIDs and scripts to repeatedly guess at passwords in an attempt to brute-force their way into the network. After a certain amount of incorrect guesses, the accounts in question were locked.

Our data remains safe, but the process of warding off these brute-force attacks taxes the overall system. Our crucial services are being strained and, in some cases, needed to be restarted to work properly. 

What has already happened

As part of a three-part process, as of Tuesday, November 15, 2016, all connections attempting to use Microsoft Remote Desktop to connect to the Illinois network from off-campus needed to connect through the University's Virtual Private Network (VPN) or Remote Desktop Gateway service.

As of January 30, 2017, customers who want to connect to on-campus computers through Telnet, VNC, or Apple Remote Desktop will also need to connect through the VPN. 

In the future

On May 30, 2017, individuals who want to connect to on campus resources using Secure Shell (SSH) will need to do so through the VPN.

Please note that if we see increased attack traffic associated with SSH that jeopardizes the University of Illinois, we may need to accelerate our timeline.  

What you can do

Microsoft Remote Desktop
To reduce these attacks, customers who connect to on-campus computers through Microsoft RDP will need to connect through the VPN or the Remote Desktop Gateway service. You will only need to set up one of these options once, but you will need to use that service every time you need to connect from off-campus.

VPN
To setup and use the VPN service on your computer, please refer to this page for instructions: https://techservices.illinois.edu/services/virtual-private-networking-vpn/download-and-set-up-the-vpn-client.

Remote Desktop Gateway
To setup and use Remote Desktop Gateway on your computer, please follow these instructions: https://answers.uillinois.edu/illinois/page.php?id=47684. You do not need to be an IT professional or to have administrator access on your computer to configure Remote Desktop Gateway.

Installing and configuring VPN or Remote Desktop Gateway on your off-campus computers will help ensure that the Illinois network is safe and our services functioning.

Other means of connecting from off-campus
While the most immediate changes only affect Microsoft RDP, there will be changes in the future to other protocols used to connect to computers from off-campus. These other connection services include Telnet, VNC, Apple Remote Desktop, and SSH.

SSH
After May 30, 2017, customers who connect to on-campus computers through SSH will need to connect through the VPN. In addition to the VPN, Tech Services is exploring the idea of a SSH Gateway service. If this service becomes available, we will update this page and communicate changes with the community.

Get help

For questions or concerns, please contact the Technology Services Help Desk at 217-244-7000 or email consult@illinois.edu. Your local IT professional is also available and ready to help.