Rutgers has unintentionally become the site of an experiment for the 21st century: How does a university operate without Internet, email, or course-management systems?

Students and faculty were forced to find out last week when a cyber attack disabled Rutgers' networks for most of a work day.

A psychology graduate student, just days from defending his master's thesis, resorted to reading tiny PDFs on his phone.

Undergrads taking economics depended on documents downloaded to personal devices - at the beginning-of-the-semester urging of their professor.

Librarians browsed book stacks, relying on the classic tools of the trade to find the right titles.

One history professor, unable to access files or conduct research, simply gave up and worked from home.

"It was almost a joke Monday, when the Internet was out during the working hours," said Nick Kapur, the Rutgers-Camden history professor.

Monday's outages were caused by a "distributed denial-of-service" attack, university officials said, the latest in a series of attacks that have taken down Rutgers' networks for days at a time.

The attacks use a large number of computers - often hijacked "bots," computers infected by a virus without the users' knowledge - to overwhelm a server. Faculty, staff, and students are left scrambling to function without online access.

"It definitely brought out a weakness," said Nick Fox, 28, who just started his third year as a psychology doctoral student in New Brunswick. When teaching undergraduates, Fox said, he often turns to videos or other materials on the Internet to illustrate a concept.

"It helps in that interactivity, in that moment, where we can say, 'Let's go to this huge well of information and pull something that can be helpful in the moment,' " Fox said.

Without Internet access last week, Fox said, it was "back to the old chalk and blackboard times."

The first attack at Rutgers lasted several hours on Nov. 19, school officials said. Networks next came down during attacks from March 27 through 30, and, a month later, another four-day attack that threatened to disrupt finals.

Monday's attack lasted from around 10 a.m. until the evening.

Each attack makes clear the limitations of technology but also the adaptability of everyone on campus, said Julie Still, a Rutgers-Camden librarian.

On one hand, Still and her colleagues could not search electronic catalogs for books or journals or access most online databases and subscription services. On the other, physical resources still exist, and the librarians have the expertise to find them.

"In a way, librarians are almost more valuable then," Still said. "To find the things that you need without the resources that the university has paid for, you really need a Sherpa. And that's what we can be."

Books are still arranged physically by call number, and academic librarians often specialize in certain fields and know their collections inside and out.

"I couldn't tell them if we have a specific book . . . but I could have a good chance of finding the general area of the collection where that book would be," she said.

The latest attack left Kapur unable to prepare materials for his history classes or access his own documents on Dropbox and Google Docs. Without Internet access, Kapur couldn't conduct his research.

So he went home.

"It set me back a lot," Kapur said.

Last semester, half the students in one of Kapur's seminar classes were unable to access course materials, which hurt class discussion. He ended up canceling the next class when it became clear that network outages would continue over multiple days.

"As a younger professor, where I'm just way more dependent - probably too dependent - on the Internet for various things, it was extremely disruptive and frustrating," he said.

Not so for Gregory Clare, who has been teaching economics at Rutgers-New Brunswick since he was a graduate student in 1975.

"I was the old school, and we had to go and Xerox stuff," he said. "And so what would happen is you might wait to the last minute to Xerox something that was on reserve at the library, and all of a sudden the copy machines are broken."

Students knew, Clare said, to make their own copies - and early.

When the cyber attacks began last semester, Clare noticed his students' dependence on course materials being accessible online at any time.

This semester, Clare added a paragraph to the syllabus for each course. Written in all capital letters - "I wanted to get attention" - he issued a directive to students to download all material to personal devices.

"When I started out, computers were not at all reliable, so we always had backups for everything, and we had hard copies everywhere," Clare said.

Clare's students largely followed his directions, and on Monday his class was able to continue without issues.

"The bottom line is, it's probably going to happen again. There's no way to guarantee against it, but what they can do is minimize the impact it has on their lives," he said.

Jing-Chiou Liou, a computer science professor at Kean University who specializes in cybersecurity, agrees that students and faculty everywhere should consider how they would work without an Internet connection.

"In the 21st century, unfortunately, we all depend on online too much," he said. "So if I'm teaching one of my classes, I will suggest to my students, everything that you need to have for this class, I will post online, and then please download it onto your laptop, your own computer."

Rutgers has spent $3 million on cybersecurity in recent months, school officials said, and the FBI is assisting state and local law enforcement agencies investigating the attacks.

The university's beefed-up systems include hardware upgrades, server improvements, and a change in service providers, Don Smith, vice president for information technology, wrote in a universitywide message sent Monday evening.

Not that it can ever be enough, he warned.

Distributed denial-of-service attacks "are becoming more frequent in cyberspace; they are being experienced in higher education, government, and by commercial enterprises," he wrote.

"There is no doubt that they will happen again."

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