PCs in the classroom are often a hard won asset for schools, but how do you protect them from over enthusiastic and untrained hands?
St Crispin's school in Wokingham has 40 networked PCs, most of which are available directly to students. As with most schools, several machines are left unsupervised for long periods of time, which leave them vulnerable to the actions of creative students. Earlier this year, the school started to install Hardwall cards from Calluna Technology to protect its PCs. The result has been a considerable saving in time and money on PC repair.
Although the school has had no serious incidents of hacking or data theft, there has been a constant stream of "nuisance" problems emanating from student misuse of machines. Doug Small, St Crispin's IT technician, believed that prior to the installation of Hardwall he would spend at least 50 per cent of his week undoing the problems caused by students. "Hardwall saves me time, which means I can spend a greater proportion of my day doing my job properly rather than wasting time fixing silly problems. It also means that the school investment in PCs is more efficient because there is less downtime which leaves more PCs available to students for educational use."
"Many of the machines were especially vulnerable to "interference" from pupils, especially the PCs in the library and sixth form block. We targeted these machines so that they would be the first to receive Hardwall protection and since installation, we have had no further trouble with them."
Small says he prefers Hardwall, a hardware-based solution, to software solutions because it actually restricts the areas of the computer to which users have access. In the past, students could reconfigure a PC's set-up or load superfluous applications such as games and "hide" them deep within a PC's system to escape detection. Hardwall only allows changes to be made to a restricted portion of the PC, which not only protects the rest of the machine from viruses and hackers, but also gives transparency so that any applications that are unauthorised are easily found.
"We have had Hardwall for four months but I would say that it has already paid for itself and benefited us in a number of ways. Now, when we have a problem with a machine I no longer have to rebuild it from the ground up, I merely reboot it by switching on and off and the machine returns to the state that the school intended it to be," says Small.
Fiona Riddoch, Calluna's product manager for Hardwall products, said: "Maintenance costs for a PC can be high, particularly in a multi-user environment like a school. If you add these maintenance costs to costs associated with Internet connectivity and virus control, the maintenance costs for individual machines can be high. Studies in the commercial environment have shown numbers reaching £5,000 per annum." She continued: "Once installed, as well as protecting the operating system from unskilled users, Hardwall gives complete protection from the latest hacking techniques and the newest viruses because it portions off different sections of the PC and restricts damage to a very limited part of the PC. Limiting damage by ring-fencing different sections of the PC in this way means that any problems that do arise are easily remedied. We launched Hardwall to offer protection to all sectors and the experience at St Crispin's shows that it performs as well in education as it does in the business arena."
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