Internet outage could take days to fix, feds are now involved

The University of Michigan is attempting to fix the internet services at its Ann Arbor, Flint and Dearborn campuses since the eve of the new academic year, but what caused the disruption and exactly how long it take to be restored is unclear.

“The team is working around the clock and already has restored access to some systems,” the university offered in an Monday afternoon update. “That said, it may be several days before all online services return to their normal levels.”

On the first day of the new semester, tens of thousands of students, faculty, staff and administrators struggled to access their university accounts, class schedules, email, and, even send selfies to their parents, eager to share the photos and Wolverine pride on Facebook.

The disruption — at the university’s Ann Arbor, Flint and Dearborn campuses — is directly affecting nearly 120,000, including about 65,000 students, and 54,000 faculty and staff, and indirectly affecting even more as U-M tried to fix the problem.

For many, it is a reminder how reliant society has become on technology, how vulnerable it can be to losing it, and how, especially for those who went to college before the internet, 24/7 digital connectivity dominates college life.

But there also are hints the outage is more than a glitch.

In its latest update, U-M mentioned that its Information Assurance team was on guard, working with “leading cybersecurity providers” to detect, deflect and mitigate “a steady stream of malicious actors every hour of every day.”

Internet access cut off

To help students, the university on Monday set up tents where students could get face-to-face assistance, taped up hand-written signs in public places and found other ways to share class schedules and essential first-day information.

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The trouble, which the university acknowledged in a short announcement at about 1:45 p.m. Sunday, began with limited and no access to multiple services including email; Google; Canvas, a content management system; and Wolverine Access, the school’s digital gateway.

More:University of Michigan campuses without internet on 1st day of class

“Due to a technology issue internet connectivity will be intermittent or unavailable,” the university said, in one of its first descriptions of the disruption. “Service will be stored as quickly as possible. Please monitor @umichtech for updates on the outage.”

Just before 10 p.m.: the university posted an update: “We are making progress.” But U-M also seemed to suggest that there wouldn’t be enough progress to resolve the issue by the next morning. “The next update will be posted by midnight.”

At 11:59 p.m., the university urged students, particularly at the Ann Arbor campus, the largest, by far, of the three “to check public course schedules & locations” and said the next update would be coming at 9 a.m. the next morning.

Authorities are involved

Monday morning, the university apologized “for the ongoing disruption.”

It also began to suggest that the problem was more serious and the “difficult decision was made to separate the U-M network from the internet to help mitigate technical issues,” and in a later update, indicated that the problem might last a while.

Among the clues, the university changed the update heading it had been using, “Temporary Internet Outage,” to “Campus IT Outage.” And while there was no definitive timeline for internet restoration, the university said it could be “several days” before the problem was fixed.

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Yet, while wired and wireless internet access was down, there was a glimmer of hope: Cloud services to Google, Canvas, Zoom, Adobe Cloud, Dropbox, Slack and other services were back online and “reachable when using off-campus and cellular networks.”

Still, the update said, classes would still meet and the campus was still open, including dorms, dining halls, and all university offices. The university also said professors and instructors would do their best to communicate with students.

U-M has promised there would be no late registration or disenrollment fees through Thursday, and that “consideration will be given” to students missing classes and assignments.

However, near the end of the update, the university added a line that it did not explain, suggesting that more could be behind the outage: “The U-M Division of Public Safety and Security and federal law enforcement partners have been informed and are involved.”

Contact Frank Witsil: 313-222-5022 or [email protected].

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