Headteacher Magazine, guide to services and products for UK Schools
SonicWall keeps students safe and prevents ransomware, encrypted threats and phishing attacks at Luton Sixth Form College
Educational institutions face a unique set of challenges when it comes to data security. Protecting young people from external threats and safeguarding their data is the paramount concern. And yet IT plays an increasingly important role in education meaning the provision of a shared network and fast internet connection is critical to performance. ICT managers must therefore be equipped with the right tools to be able to provide a well performing infrastructure with 24/7 uptime, while ensuring its users are protected. One such institution facing such challenges was Luton Sixth Form College.
Luton Sixth Form College is the oldest sixth form college in the UK and today it has a large student cohort of more than 2,700 students between the ages of 16 and 18. The college is proud of its state of the art facilities and students enjoy access to a user-friendly IT network through which they can store and retrieved files as well as interact with fellow students.
Underpinning the college’s IT operations is a sophisticated eduroam policy which secures the network and allows students and staff from the college as well as participating institutions to access the network through a single set of credentials. The system is in good standing with the students who enjoy the simplicity of the interface and fast internet access. Rob Moir, who is responsible for IT operations at the college wanted to continue the eduroam policy, but concerns began to surface as he identified potential weaknesses in the infrastructure. The level and nature of potential security threats that could arise, including the grooming of students and radicalisation, was of paramount consideration to the welfare of students.
Rob Moir and his team take cyber security issues very seriously and together, they do everything possible to ensure they meet, and indeed go beyone, KSCiE statutory requirements, which set out the legal obligations that schools and colleges must fulfil to promote the welfare of children. In practical terms, this meant that Rob’s team needed to deploy appropriate filtering and monitoring tools to ensure users do not have access to harmful content. The newly deployed tools also mean that a report on internet usage can be prepared rapidly at any time across any time range.
Beyond the security challenges concerning the welfare of students, Rob Moir’s team was keen to minimise the risk of serious unknown malware and ransomware attacks and was aware that the number of zero day threats in educational institutions was on the rise. This is a common security issue for educational institutions in the UK, and a number of other schools in the Luton area had been the target of such threats, resulting in the loss of valuable data and in exam results being compromised. The sixth form college required a security system that would keep students safe by filtering specific content and that could also help the IT team stay one step ahead of cyber attackers by alerting the IT team of suspicious and unusual network activity.
Content filtering is critical to the college and its new Content Filtering Service, which was released in September 2016 makes content filtering across groups very straightforward - the rules are easy to set up, troubleshoot and apply to different groups. Content Filtering 4.0 includes framework and workflow redesigning, and UI reorganising, providing more accurate filtering options and handling of small packets. This enables the college to see what different individuals and groups are looking at on the web, for example, what a particular user is doing on specific social media platform, what a group of children are looking at on Facebook, even what an individual or group is looking at using their own device on campus, at any particular time.
Using SonicWall Advanced Gateway Security Suite (AGSS), which provides a complete, integrated protection solution that includes Capture Advanced Threat Protection, a multi-engine sandbox that runs and inspects suspicious files, programmes and code in an isolated cloud-based environment, the IT team can completely secure the college’s network. The solution secures the college network at the gateway against known and unknown threats such as zero-day attacks, ransomware, intrusions, viruses, spyware, worms, Trojans, adware, keyloggers, malicious mobile code, and other malicious threats.
A SonicWall technical consultant worked closely with the Luton College Sixth Form College to demonstrate the advanced features of the security tools. The easy-to-use software includes features that are specifically designed for organisations with various different groups, and Rob Moir’s team were easily able to allow specific groups of students and staff access to different data. A key feature of the solution is Fastvue, which simplifies the entire reporting process, intelligently interpreting log files to deliver detailed web activity reports. This allows the college to be compliant with KSCiE statutory requirements and saves the IT team time in network monitoring and administration.
One the team had time to settle in with the new environment, Rob Moir said, “Our SonicWall technical consultant demonstrated the advanced features of SonicWall AGSS, which includes the SonicWall Capture Advanced Threat Protection multi-engine sandbox, and showed how easy it is to set up new rules for different groups. This was exactly what we were looking for – threats can be blocked and reports easily produced to show real-time alerts of user activity during any specific timeframe. Once we had evaluated all the options it was clear that, not only does SonicWall provide the best value for money, it is the only vendor that has dedicated categories for all the content lists and requirements set out in the KCSiE Guidance.”
Educational institutions face a distinctive set of obstacles which are complex and diverse when it comes to cyber security. The paramount consideration must be to safeguard students by protecting their privacy, preventing external threats and blocking sensitive information. Then there are malware and ransomware attacks and schools must ensure they meet stringent regulatory requirements. As Luton Sixth Form College demonstrates, with the right tools, educational institutions can ensure the time spent by the IT staff is on continual improvement and innovation, rather than crisis management. In doing so, Luton Sixth Form College was able to offer its students one of the most advance networks in the country, while keeping the students’ best interests at the centre of everything it does.
By Florian Malecki, International Product Marketing Director, SonicWall
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