The changing demands on education networks
Over time, network security threats have moved from identity-based threats to content-based ones. Schools are well aware that students can be exposed to/have access to inappropriate material and need to be constantly vigilant. This is a particularly poignant topic at the moment since the House of Lords recently passed a motion (Specification and Disposal of Articles – Regulations 2012) that grants teachers the power to search a mobile phone, iPad or laptop if they suspect that the device contains pornographic images. Whilst this motion has opened a whole new debate for discussion, it does raise the question of security within the educational setting. This could involve the potential intrusion into academic and examination records, personal data, introduction of viruses and worms into the school's network, utilisation of campus networks for illegal content sharing, and requirements to archive electronic communications for electronic discovery purposes.
These issues have placed an enormous strain on all resources that are associated with the maintenance and support of educational IT systems and networks. Schools need to ensure they are aware of the availability of network protection for distributed and diverse educational networks. This protection must be effective, inexpensive, easy to install and maintain, consistent with applicable government requirements and one that can be used to filter inappropriate content, eliminate viruses and worms, detect network intrusions and prevent access to critical computing assets.
Traditional solutions to educational network security
Network security systems have attempted to address the problem by creating many different ‘point solutions’. Whilst these solutions challenge a specific component of the network security, they are inconsistent in their functionality as they were never designed to work together. They leave the educational network exposed and the network manager with the job of trying to make sense of how to customise everything into an interacting, comprehensive and cohesive security system.
What do schools need to do?
Schools need to work with reputable companies who have experience of working with schools and understand the school environment. They should consider investing in a multi-threat security system, such as Fortinet. Such systems have built-in layers of security which give maximum protection including firewall, Virtual Private Network (VPN), Intrusion Preventions System (IPS), web-filtering, anti-virus and anti-spam functionality in one platform that is easy to install, maintain and update without driving up costs and complexity. Take into account that licencing is on a ‘per appliance’ basis and not done on a per user (staff/pupil) basis, which would be extremely complex to manage with very expensive, on-going licence costs.
Look for a highly regarded supplier who offers unified security. Small investments of time and money can achieve large improvements in network security.