PITTSBURGH -- When John Vranesevich discovered that his AntiOnline.com page on the World Wide Web had disappeared, he thought a computer hacker had attacked it. Then he heard from the University of Pittsburgh.
The freshman found out that his school had shut down the page, where he and other college students were posting advice to help computer users protect their systems from hackers.
As a result of his work on the page, the school has barred him from campus computer labs and accused him of breaking school rules about using computer resources. He and at least one other student face disciplinary hearings.
"I honestly consider it a form of censorship," Vranesevich said.
"It was the judgment of the people in computing services that it was an inappropriate use of computer services," said university spokesman Ken Service, "and a violation of the agreement that the students sign at the beginning of each year."
Vranesevich, 19, of Aliquippa complained that university officials have not explained what he did wrong. He said he posted no pornography, poached no software and withheld information that might be exploited by hackers.
The Web site went on-line in late October, according to information posted at that site, which is now run by a friend in Idaho. Vranesevich maintained it from a computer in his dormitory room. College students as far away as Malaysia, Germany and Brazil used the page to share tips about security problems with software and how to correct them.
On Nov. 14, Vranesevich discovered the site was gone.
He and other Pittsburgh students who help him thought at first the disappearance was the work of hackers, who enjoy cracking computer security devices, usually for the mere satisfaction of proving their savvy.
A university administrator later notified them that the school had disconnected the site, revoked their dial-up access and suspended their e-mail accounts.
AntiOnline.com violated a campus policy that computers may not be used for commercial purposes, the administrator said.
"We didn't make a dime," said Vranesevich. "We didn't ask for a dime. We didn't sell any advertising on it."
Vranesevich said university officials should have given him a chance to explain the site before pulling the plug. "The first thing I heard from the university was that judicial charges had been filed against me."
He encouraged readers to protest by e-mail or telephone to the administrator who ordered the Web page shut down. After that, the school leveled more charges against him: harassment, failing to comply with a school official and trying to discourage use of the school's judicial process.
Vranesevich hopes the student judicial system will hear his case in January.
Wired News, an on-line magazine, credited the site with publicizing a problem with a pre-1995 version of Microsoft Windows that allowed hackers to temporarily bump a computer from Internet access. A Spanish student contributed the remedy for the security flaw, called the WinNuke bug.