On Sept. 1, Gmail, the popular Google e-mail service, experienced an outage that left nearly 145 colleges and universities, including Temple, without e-mail capabilities for nearly two hours. Again on Sept. 24, the site encountered a brief outage; this time, the company said “a small subset of users” was unable to access its accounts.
These outages are prompting questions about the reliability of using off-site e-mail providers at colleges and universities.
“Google has a huge staff of people monitoring Gmail around the clock,” Associate Vice President of Computer Services Sheri Stahler said. “If Google goes out, we know it’s putting all its resources into fixing the problem.”
Although the outages were short-lived and Google’s team responded quickly, the issue is one of several that can – and sometimes do – go awry when using off-site e-mail services.
When the university switched from its original e-mail system to Gmail, phishing scams ensued. Subject lines of the phishing e-mails read, “URGENT,” persuading some students to open and sometimes, unknowingly respond to fraudulent e-mails, which generally requested their AccessNet usernames and passwords.
Ken Ihrer, chief information security officer in the TECH Center, said phishing scams, even prior to the switch to Gmail, are common.
“We have special [blockers] in place that filter out most of the phishing scams,” he said. “You’ll never stop all of it, but you can do your best to keep it [to a minimum].”
Other issues caused by the use of outside e-mail providers range from tiny glitches, such as mail being sent to the wrong recipient – to big issues, such as privacy protection concerns while the e-mail is being controlled off-site.
“We have a formal policy at Temple that says you can’t rely on e-mail to be private,” Ihrer said.
Despite this, Associate Director of Information Technology Seth Shestack said Gmail was chosen as the new e-mail provider because Google has a facility in place that allows authenticating for e-mail management to take place on-site at Temple in its own computer services system.
“When you log into e-mail, we’re still maintaining and managing login security,” Shestack said.
Login has been another minor glitch with Temple’s use of Gmail.
Sophomore political science major Prince Schultz said an odd glitch occurs when others try to login to TUmail from his computer.
“When someone else logs onto their account on my computer, it takes them to my e-mail instead of theirs,” he said. “I saw them type in their TUid and password, and my e-mail opened up.”
Despite the issues, students said they are generally pleased with Gmail’s service. Schultz said it’s easier to use and for the most part, very trustworthy.
Other students echoed Schultz’s sentiments.
“I didn’t mind the old system, but it was really obvious that it was a pretty out-of-date system,” junior social work major Paul Malfara said.
“As far as features go,” he added, “I am pretty happy to have Gmail because it has Gchat [an instant messaging tool] and makes it easy to contact people instantly when you are on your e-mail.”
Joshua Fernandez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.