Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Physicists Mistaken for Hackers at APS March Meeting

A precious resource has been returned to thousands of physicists attending this year’s APS March Meeting. Yesterday marked the start of one of the largest physics conferences in the world, but the security settings on arXiv did not know this. The arXiv is an online repository for preprints of scientific papers covering studies in mathematics, physics, astronomy, computer science, quantitative biology, statistics and quantitative finance.

When over 9,000 scientists using the meeting’s complementary WiFi tried accessing their trusty scientific paper repository, the arXiv’s security turned on and denied them access. Luckily, developer of arXiv, Paul Ginsparg, was notified of the problem and earlier this morning scientists at Cornell University lifted the block.

One of the ways that websites identify hacking attacks is when a large number of requests from a single Internet Protocol (IP) address attempt to access the site over a short period of time. Such was the case on Monday, March 3 at the Colorado Convention Center where this year's APS March meeting is taking place.

Page that appears in place of arxiv.org. 

Instead of recognizing its devoted users, the arXiv identified the many requests as an attack attempting to shut down the site or illegally download information. As a result, when users tried to access the site with the meeting’s complimentary WiFi, they came face to face with a daunting “Access Denied” page.

According to a scientist at the meeting, this is not the first year when arXiv has blocked users at the APS March meeting. It is a rare event when nearly 10,000 scientists, mainly physicists, come together. ArXiv cannot be expected to anticipate such an occasion (although the scientists at Cornell might) and therefore, for the last few years, it has shut access down to APS March meeting participants.


During the time I’ve taken to write this, it appears that arXiv has, again, targeted the meeting’s WiFi and is denying users access. Looks like scientists will have to use a separate WiFi network to access the site at this year’s meeting. Or perhaps there’s a clever way around the block. I’d be curious to know if anyone has any suggestions.


  1. Use the los alamos mirror at

  2. Tor. What, too much?

  3. Try the new front for the arxiv; SciRate! https://scirate.com/

  4. Couldn't you just use Tor so that you're coming in from a different IP address? At this point there's even Tor for smart phones, and it's only slightly slower.

  5. Most of the people at APS (myself included) have access to some kind of VPN service; this is a solution that works while arXiv works to unblock the IP range.

  6. Use the home university's proxy server to access the site. This is how I got around the Great Firewall of China, btw.