Schools need to have access to information for their staff and students, but there is a fine line between freedom of information and the risk of information abuse and loss.
Schools must protect their IT networks from viruses, malware, unauthorised access and data leaks. At the same time, they require a security system that is easy to use and affordable to manage.
The changing nature of the technology landscape, and the threats that accompany it, further complicate the situation. The number of web-based applications that higher education users rely on and access from the school network continues to increase at a dramatic rate.
This is due to the emergence of web 2.0 technologies, remote user access, an increase in smartphone usage and students bringing their own devices, paving the path for the ever-growing BYOD trend.
School IT departments need to balance the use of productive applications versus non-productive and potentially damaging applications.
In the case of Facebook for instance, there is a need for granular application control. Schools have policies to allow Facebook access for certain groups or individuals, but at the same time they need to disable features that have no value or even open the school's network up for vulnerabilities, intrusion or data leakage.
Cambridge Regional College (UK) recently addressed this as it recently updated its IT security to match its expansion. It now has a set of Dell SonicWALL solutions in place, which protect the school network, but give teachers flexibility to make lessons current and engaging for students.
For example, teachers can allow students to have access to Facebook (while blocking Facebook Chat), and permit usage of YouTube and BBC iPlayer for student research. The lessons can be made fun and interactive for students using technology they know, but also allow teachers and IT staff to ensure safe internet access or restrict access to non-desirable YouTube channels.
Major virus and worm outbreaks can be extremely disruptive and can bring down a school network, cripple day-to-day operations and require enormous clean-up efforts. To protect against threats, it is imperative for schools to stop breaches before they happen through a well-designed system of network access control and identity management. All devices attempting to log on to the network must be examined to verify they comply with the necessary endpoint security policies, e.g. have antivirus software installed.
Given the different levels of security required, schools need an intelligent, flexible system that can be managed centrally. One option is to install a next-generation firewall: a security product, which includes multiple security features integrated into one device such as network and application inspection, antivirus protection as well as network intrusion detection and prevention.
Ekaraj Panjavinin is country manager for Dell Thailand.
Five tips to help schools safely navigate the security minefield:
Train all staff regularly: They should know how to use the IT systems, how to keep the school network protected, how to make sure students are using technology and the internet safely, and what they should do in the event of an emergency.
Access control: Make sure all areas of access to the school network are protected.
Centralise management: Schools do not tend to have large IT-departments, so the system needs to be easy to maintain and easy to manage, should issues arise.
Research, test and be sure to select the right IT security solutions: It's not a one size fits all situation. Different schools will need different products.
Update: Keep up to date with technological advances as much as possible, as security threats will develop alongside them.
If a school follows these policies, they will continue to deliver education in a fun and interactive way whilst not bringing the whole school system down through unwanted malware and viruses.