What is ‘Bring Your Own Network’ (BYON)?

Julia Sharman

Julia has over 30 years’ experience working in the education sector as a specialist and advisory teacher for SEND and mental health. Previously a Local Authority Coordinator leading on educational projects and community learning in the public, private and voluntary sectors and freelance writer. She is a specialist teacher for children with dyslexia and an Advisory Teacher for children with mental health issues and medical and health needs.

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Teachers love acronyms, and one that seems to be of interest is BYON. Education veteran Julia Sharman discusses the details of Bring Your Own Network, as well as the potential positive and negative aspects that it could bring to schools.

By now the phrases ‘Bring Your Own Device’ (BYOD) and latterly ‘Bring Your Own App’ (BYOA) are familiar with the majority of us, and integral part of our technological knowledge. Using our own mobile devices and applications are commonplace on a daily basis. Being able to use wireless devices such as mobile phones and tablets to access social media sites and applications, beyond the reach of the main network and allowing access from remote locations, has opened the door to a wealth of information adding greater dimensions to support teaching and learning, in conjunction with and, alongside more traditional methods.

More recently, ‘Bring Your Own Network’ (BYON) has started to emerge. Initially more likely to have been around in the corporate world, but nevertheless something those of us in the education world need to be aware of, BYON is when staff or pupils use their mobile phone cellular connectivity to set up a personal hotspot. Simply put, this means that they can bypass the main network and access websites, apps and other services that are banned by IT filtering systems by creating personal area networks (PANs), as an alternative to the schools main network.

Most sites like social media, music and film download sites are typically blocked or have their usage monitored by these filtering systems, however nearly all modern smartphones and tablets with 3/4G tariff can instantaneously be turned into a wireless hotspot. A hotspot is a site that offers internet access over a wireless local area network (LAN). A wireless LAN allows any wireless-enabled system or device within range connectivity to the web. This is a service that allows a user to subscribe to a global wireless broadband network. It is possible to create a wireless hotspot by tethering a mobile phone connection to some other computing device. Hot spots can also be created by a small wireless router that plugs into an electrical outlet.

While a school’s filtering system may be sufficient in monitoring and blocking access to the most popular sites within the school building, this may not be so out in the field, in the school car park or local vicinity.

This could potentially mean problems with the security of sensitive data, as access via networks from personal devices may be largely unsecured and unmonitored by these filtering systems. Sensitive data may be leaked out through insecure access points or carried out on unprotected personal devices. Tech Radar’s Nathan Pearce describes the problem:

“In some ways this presents similar issues to BYOD; ensuring sensitive data remains secure and protected while allowing staff and pupils all the tools they need to be productive.”

In addition to exposing potentially confidential and sensitive data, data travelling outside the main network can introduce new malware (malicious software) threats and place other data at risk.

Acceptable use policies (AUP) are widely in place that are signed by both staff and pupils allowing a school to regulate, establish governance and acceptable usage standards (i.e., that specify conditions that must be followed for BYOD and BYOA).

It may be time to rethink those conditions and amend your AUP: “Even a BYOD policy written as recently as 2012 may not make specific mention of personal hot spots and their use”, wrote Andrew Wright in Computer Weekly.

Conditions for allowing the use of personal devices need to be clear. Although it may be deemed as controversial to sign a document that holds an individual personally responsible for any lost data or security threat to the schools network by a personal device, the real benefit is that security is kept in mind when using personal internet-capable devices in the workplace.

An alternative option is to create a secondary secure wireless network that allows access with personal devices but of course this may not be the most cost-effective route.

Image Credit: Brad Flickinger

Has your school had any experience with BYON? Tell us about it in the comments.

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