Managing a public-access wiki is a little like trying to grow a garden in a land fill. Every time you go to check on how things are doing, you find another pile of someone else's refuse piled on top of your stuff. While digging the Wiki35 out from under a recent mudslide of online pharmaceutical and college-degree-purchasing spam scams, I found this page:
NOTICE: This page was created by a program as part of the Graffiti Network research project at Brown University. We have removed the data, but are unable to remove this page. We apologize for any inconveniences that our actions may have caused. For more information, please visit http://graffiti.cs.brown.edu/info/.
Our education wiki was spammed by Brown University's studious attempt at random vandalizing of public web sites. What that spamming represented was more than just an attempt by a computer science's department to explore the feasibility of using random public sites to share distributed data. It represented an arrogance that exceeds the skills developed by that department's faculty, students and staff. The "information" web page that the embedded link points to claims that the defaced pages would be removed by April 11, 2009. It also provides instructions for system administrator to remove the pages themselves in case the Brown University crew couldn't figure out how to undo what it had already done. April 11 is long past and the page remained: the arrogant and ignorant Ivy Leaguers at Brown should probably have Hacking listed as their major areas of study: computer scientists they are not.
Hacking can take many forms and disguises. When I did a DNS lookup on the offending host address, it did resolve to a Brown University listed address. Maybe I should report the vandalism to firstname.lastname@example.org, but in a properly run network environment I shouldn't have to complain to their listed technical contact. If Brown isn't aware of what its departments (or wayward students) are doing, they have little business being plugged into any external network. While I realize that suggesting that Brown unplug itself from the internet is more fantasy than proposal, I am suggesting that using --or allowing to be used-- academic departments to exploit public resources harms the flow and availability of information. Purposely defacing a website, despite the after-the-fact mea culpas, is the academic equivalent of burning books.
The next time I receive some heinous spam in my inbox or on my website, I'll wonder if it came from Rhode Island.