Secure Networks Equal Safe Schools

For schools around the country the lunch bell has always presented an opportunity to relax and socialize with friends. In today’s technology focused world, students are taking that socialization to a new level and are using the Internet access provided by schools to IM (instant message) friends, read and send e-mails, and surf the Internet. Since friends often change screen names or have multiple accounts, students often don’t think twice about accepting messages or even files from names they don’t recognize. Since they are using the school network for Internet access, what happens if a file contains a virus or a message delivers inappropriate content?


With students constantly trading information, e-mails, and files, IT administrators need to ensure that the school network is protected against viruses, worms, malicious code and spam. Since many students utilize their personal Internet and e-mail accounts, administrators often have very little control over how content is utilized and propagated.


Although many students have been educated about the threat of viruses, schools shouldn’t rely on student filtering to protect their networks. Virus writers continue to evolve strategies to prey on human nature and entice students and others to click on malicious links and executables. For example, many use broad interest offers such as fan access to musicians or computer security downloads in order to lure people into opening or downloading worms and viruses.


In addition to the mounting risks of virus infection, e-mail users also face increasing amounts of unwanted messages or spam. According to Radicati Group estimates, junk messages today represent 45 percent of all e-mail traffic and their number is expected to grow to 70 percent by 2007. These messages often contain content that is inappropriate or potentially dangerous for students.


How can schools continue to allow students, faculty, and staff to utilize e-mail and IM capabilities without opening their networks to additional attacks and unwanted message traffic? The answer can be found in the two important keys to network security success: Policy enablement and network protection.


Creating and Enforcing Policy


Since students use Internet access provided by schools, it is critical to institute specific and enforceable policies regarding usage, content, and file-sending capabilities. For both students and employees, in the absence of any clear school policy guidelines, there is the potential for the use of inappropriate language, sharing of confidential student information, illegal purchases or downloads, and potential loss of social development. Due to the delicate balance between“policing” students and allowing them privacy and freedom, instituting and enforcing a policy for electronic communications can be difficult. With many students exchanging messages or downloading files with relatively little supervision, schools need to put the right tools in place in order to ensure proper computer usage through effective policy enablement. Policy enablement is a means for facilitating specific policy based on predetermined criteria, such as minimizing e-mail communications or IM traffic based on the content of a message and/or its size. The ability to enforce these policies is one of the key elements of instituting a high-level IT security strategy and creating successful Internet usage guidelines.


Protection


Network administrators responsible for the messaging and collaboration servers that support their school’s IT infrastructure need to implement a server-level solution that preemptively protects communications and data and file exchanges being sent via e-mail or IM while providing the features and functionality needed to implement a strong policy enablement methodology.


Antivirus protection becomes critical for schools since the software or filtering capabilities students utilize are not always easily controlled or monitored. Schools need to place antivirus software at both the desktop and server level for school-controlled computers in order to provide full protection against viruses, worms, and malicious code. Recent viruses have utilized both e-mail and IM-type applications for propagation, making both e-mail and IM security essential.


When designed effectively with the proper tools, schools are able to reap the benefits that providing Internet access to students has to offer without exposing them and their networks to virus attacks and inappropriate content. With the right tools, network security can enhance the overall benefits of Internet access at schools while providing a safe environment for students to learn and grow.



Joe Licari is director of product management for Sybari Software, Inc. Sybari provides enterprise class protection of messaging and collaboration infrastructures for over 9,000 organizations around the world.


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