By February 28, 2023, all students will be required to sign up for the mandatory UTORMFA program, University of Toronto’s very own two-factor authentication system to protect Acorn, Outlook, and Quercus accounts. The University of Toronto Mississauga’s (UTM) campus population sees this move as another way to inconvenience students, who are already dealing with a depressing university experience. However, The Medium has spoken to the university’s dean, who has been the main driver of this move and believes that two-factor authentication is a step towards protecting students from the rise of phishing emails.
Over the years, U of T students have been receiving scam emails in their inboxes. Usually, these emails are from someone with a U of T email address, offering a lucrative job offer with flexible hours and a salary of $700 per week. All students have to do is click the “link” and sign in to “Acorn” in order to apply for this once of a lifetime opportunity.
“These kinds of emails are harmful to our dear students,” said the dean with a concerned look. “These emails are showing students that there are opportunities to further their career outside of university. We need them to keep blindly pouring thousands of dollars into achieving a degree that might help them get a job at Forever 21.”
Because of this, UTORMFA will serve as an added security measure for students’ data and privacy. The Medium also spoke with the head of U of T’s cybersecurity department on how two-factor authentication works. “There were discussions about how we should proceed with the two-factor authentication, but since we’re U of T, we didn’t want to do something normal and reasonable… We wanted to do something boundless. So, every time a student logs into Acorn, they will be presented with a real-world problem that they will have to solve in a limited amount of time.”
We were then shown a demonstration of how UTFORMA works. We logged into Acorn, and then were taken to the next web page, where we were presented with a question about how to solve Canada’s housing crisis. If the answer wasn’t submitted in 15 seconds, loud sirens blared from the computer speakers and an animation of prison bars closed down on the webpage. The account was then locked for 24 hours.
The dean added that “with the two-factor authentication questions, we are teaching students how to quickly solve real world problems in a limited amount of time. If a situation arises where a student of ours walks into their work office and sees a ticking time bomb—not that it’s ever going to happen—our students should be able to handle that issue with ease.”
The security questions are picked from a question bank with a wide array of topics, such as politics, healthcare, and engineering. We spoke to some of the students to see what their reactions were towards UTORMFA. “It’s really annoying,” said Samantha Barnaby, a third-year sociology specialist. “The question I got asked me how to create a vaccine to cure cancer… I haven’t taken a biology course since the tenth grade. I need to submit an assignment, but I can’t log onto Quercus and it’s two weeks overdue now!”
Neil Jenkins, a first-year computer science student said, “I can’t log into my Acorn account to change my courses… I always get this one question about how many times a person should shower a day… I put zero every time and keep getting locked out of my Acorn account.”
There are also changes to the “forgot password” function. Students will now be given a multiple-choice test based on the lowest points in their academic journey. Security questions like, “How many thousands do you owe in debt?” and, “Which course instructor turned down your request to volunteer in their lab?” are said to be issued to students.
With the recent changes to how students log into U of T websites, many would expect the university to at least improve the Wi-Fi connections on campus. But the university won’t be looking to upgrade the one old and beat up Wi-Fi router they have until “more pressing priorities” have been fulfilled. So far, the university has opted to focus its spending on new NASA technology, designed to neutralize the powerful scent of Subway permeating through the entirety of UTM’s Instructional Building, so students are less distracted by their yearning for cold cuts and floppy lettuce.