University Graduates to Better Network Security

Protecting a university network is no simple task. Intrusions, malware and other cyber-maladies pop up on a regular basis, and the transitory nature of students and visitors—along with staff and faculty requirements—introduces enormous challenges. One institution attempting to deal with the problem is Asbury University, a private Christian liberal arts school in Wilmore, Ky., with more than 1,750 undergraduate and graduate students from 44 states and 15 nations.

“Students and others bring in their own computers and devices and use them days, nights and weekends,” said Paul Dupree, CIO and assistant vice president of IT services. “They introduce the threat of malware, including trojan horses.”

In addition, the school is a faith-based institution and, as such, “We have content filtering to block certain categories, such as pornography.”

Dupree notes that the university depends on an IT help desk to provide assistance to students and staff, including cleaning malware and adware from their machines.

But the challenges don’t end there.

“In the past, we had no network access control in place. There was nothing limiting total strangers from walking onto the campus and logging into the network,” he said.

Although the institution had taken steps to put access controls in place—including a proxy server and content filtering—cconfiguring individual machines was complex and time consuming.

“Everything had to be set up manually to enable the proxy. New students ran into enormous problems getting all their devices registered and authorized,” he said. “We were devoting significant time and resources to managing everything.”

About two years ago, Asbury University turned to Dell SonicWALL to improve its network access control (NAC) and Web content filtering systems. It consolidated a number of previous devices and software systems into a single appliance.

“The technology has allowed us to reduce the complexity of configuring devices by making the process transparent to users—including parents, guest lecturers and others—when they enter the campus,” Dupree said.

Regular users such as faculty and students authenticate with their credentials. This automatically generates an active directory account that makes it simple to register additional devices. Meanwhile, visitors can request a guest account through a simple Web form. The system automatically generates a three-day login pass for the campus network.

The appliance also allows faculty and students to use VPN services to connect to the network remotely (the school is now finalizing pre-configured wireless access points for faculty and staff to use at home), and an automated password reset function has reduced staff intervention for locked accounts. “We have witnessed a considerable improvement in user experience,” Dupree pointed out.

In addition, the university has improved its failover capabilities. “We can now patch and update one firewall while the other is live and functioning. We have much higher network uptime and we’re able to keep firmware completely up to date.”

Dell SonicWALL technology has also helped trim licensing costs and provided far more detailed reporting tools.

“We require robust network security without it becoming a full-time job. This technology delivers a simpler and more sophisticated approach,” Dupree said.

Samuel Greengard
Samuel Greengard
Samuel Greengard writes about business, technology and other topics. His book, The Internet of Things (MIT Press) was released in the spring of 2015.

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