Giving Network Demons the Boot

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Last fall when the students at Lasell College in Newton, Mass went backto school, they brought posters, CDs, books... and a whole lot ofviruses. The minute they arrived, the school's network went down.

And it stayed down for a week.

So while students should have been starting their homework andprofessors should have been digging into their course work, not much wasgetting done. IT workers at the college had to stop whatever projectsthey were working on to not only clean up the servers but toindividually visit the school's 1,100 students and clean the viruses offtheir machines.

''It was definitely a nightmare,'' says Deborah Gelch, chief informationofficer at Lasell College, a liberal arts school running 28 Windows NTservers, 400 faculty and staff desktops, and 10 wireless access points.''Last year was a disaster... It was a critical time for students tostart their homework and get onto email. They're already nervous aboutschool and now they can't get onto the network. It was a panickysituation.''

But there was no downtime and no panicking this year.

With the help of Perfigo, Inc., a San Francisco-based network securitycompany, getting this fall's crop of students online was a much easierprocess.

''What happened this year is exactly what was supposed to happen,'' saysGelch. ''Students couldn't log onto the network until their machineswere clean and they had updated anti-virus software and were patched forWindows vulnerabilities... The network ran perfectly through the wholeprocess.''

Perfigo, which has a significant presence in the academia world but islooking to break into the corporate arena, won't allow new accounts toaccess the network until they've met a few requirements, which are setup by the IT administrator. For instance, a student or new employeewould not be able to get onto the network until the desktop or laptop isscanned to make sure that it has up-to-date anti-virus software and thelatest patches, and isn't carrying any viruses. If it doesn't meet thosecriteria, the user is then walked through the needed processes.

Rohit Khetrapal, president Perfigo, says the issue that the college hadtranslates into the corporate world, as well.

''The issues are the same,'' he says. ''You have guests -- consultants,partners -- coming in and out of the network and you don't have controlover their laptops. If you want to be on my network, you must correctthis infection in your machine. I see who you are and I will give youaccess into your email, but I will not let you on my network. I willkeep you on an isolated network that does not touch my environment inany way, shape or form.''

Khetrapal says partners, clients, big customers and consultants all areprime candidates to carry a virus or Trojan onto the network.

But Gordon Haff, an analyst at Illuminata, an industry research firmbased in Nashua, N.H., says scanning laptops might become an issue whenthe user isn't an employee and she has proprietary or confidentialinformation on her machine.

''From the network that's doing the scanning point of view, it's a levelof security. From the scannee's point of view, though, they would havesome legitimate concerns about that being done,'' says Haff. ''Asconsultants we have confidential client information on our system, andit would not be appropriate for competitors to look at our systems.''

Khetrapal says it's a problem that can be worked out.

''You're doing a vulnerability assessment. You're not looking at theirmachine in any way shape or form,'' he points out. ''Is this machineblasting something malicious? Is there a port open? Is this machinevulnerable? You're looking at the behavior from this machine and you'renot looking at data.''

Weeding out the Bugs

At Anderson University, a 2,500-student college in Anderson, Indiana,the network administrator was able to actually focus on his real jobthis fall instead of running interference on the network and withseveral thousand angry and petulant students.

Last fall, Anderson's network administrator Stuart Hilbert was leftwrangling with a harsh Blaster attack, which plagued his network throughmost of the school year. Knowing that Blaster was a major problem,Hilbert's IT team asked students to bring their machines into the ITdepartment to have them scanned before they went online. Only about 600of the 1,400 on-campus students with laptops and desktops did so.

The other 800 students ignored warnings and heavily infected theschool's network.

''It got to the point where I was working all the time,'' says Hilbert.''I would walk in and head out to the dorms to find people and get thempatched. And that wasn't my job. It was nobody's job. As we did that, westarted neglecting other things. My job last year was to manage the helpdesk and get all the faculty and staff machines and printers working.They began to suffer, and then tickets start to pile up on you. It was alose-lose battle.

Hilbert says the problem probably cost the college more than $200,000,not to mention the added stress and diverted attention.

This year, though, it was a whole different battle.

Hilbert was using Perfigo, so students weren't able to get onto thenetwork until their systems had been scanned and OKed. This time, therewas no way to ignore the IT department. This time it wasn't a request.

''We've been so much more able to control the environment, it'sunbelievable,'' says Hilbert. ''Five days in, we had 90 percentcompletion of the process, and we'd been hoping for 85 percent or 80percent. Most of that was done by the students. We weren't spending timein their dorm rooms this year.''

Both Anderson and Lasell colleges have set up Perfigo to rescan thestudents' computers on a periodic basis, keeping them up-to-date withthe latest patches.

''As far as our responsibility to provide a smooth running network, wewere able to do that no problem,'' says Gelch. ''And now our studentsare much more educated on how to manage their own computers.''

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