Crime

Houston library Wi-Fi shut down after porn downloads

Two of Houston County’s public libraries discontinued Wi-Fi service to patrons indefinitely on Friday while a third will shut down Wi-Fi on Monday.

Sara Paulk, director of the Houston County Public Library System, said service was discontinued at the Warner Robins and Centerville branches after she received cease and desist notices Thursday through the library’s internet service provider.

An online movie distributor had demanded the IP stop materials from being illegally downloaded. Paulk said the movies illegally downloaded were pornographic in nature.

Patrons were faced Friday with signs at entrances to the two branches notifying them of the discontinued service. Paulk said she was notified by email mid-afternoon Thursday, and service was shut down after closing.

She said service at the Perry branch will be terminated Monday when the system’s IT administrator returns to work.

Paulk said two downloads were reported Thursday, the first at the Nola Brantley Memorial Library in Warner Robins and the second at the Centerville branch. The movies were downloaded by someone inside or outside the libraries with skills to override existing system safeguards, she said.

Paulk said the libraries have no choice but to discontinue the service to patrons at all three branches until its Wi-Fi system is upgraded to successfully block criminal downloads.

“It’s really terrible one bad egg has ruined things for a lot of other people, but for the time being we have no choice but to stop the service,” she said. “We have safeguards in place but someone, a hacker, with the ability to get beyond our safeguards did this, and now everyone will suffer for it. We have had plans to upgrade security and have applied for federal grants to do it, but now, until we get the money, we have to shut off our wireless service.”

Paulk estimates it will cost about $30,000 for upgrades. She said grants already have been applied for through E-RATE, but when the county might receive the money is unknown.

E-RATE administers money collected federally through universal service charges on phone bills. The money is given to schools and libraries to offset internet technology expenses. Paulk said the money is granted on a rolling basis throughout the year — not at a given time each year — and it could be months before the county gets the money, upgrades the system and restores the service.

Houston County libraries are provided internet service through Georgia Public Web, an IP serving Georgia schools and libraries.

Paulk said only wireless service is affected at the libraries, and the library’s own computers, computers for patrons, printing services and related hard-wired services will continue as usual.

“There was a similar, unsuccessful attempt at one of our libraries in the past, but our safeguards thwarted it,” Paulk said. “We’ve been working toward keeping it from happening in a variety of ways, but now someone has outstripped our efforts and we can’t go any further without the money to upgrade. It’s regrettable, but we hope to be back up offering service as soon as possible.”

Contact writer Michael W. Pannell at mwpannell@gmail.com.

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