The infectious world of broadband communication

Battling malware in an environment where the PCs on the network are owned by the users is challenging, says security specialist

Broadband communication has proved a boon to students, but its infectious appeal has a downside — it can spread malware.

The opportunities broadband offer for collaboration on work and distance learning are great for students, but there are problems, says security specialist Brian Witt. And battling malware infections in an environment where the PCs on the network are owned by the users is particularly challenging, says Witt.

“The students on a campus own and administer their own machines,” says Witt, who is worldwide enterprise marketing manager for telecommunications giant Alcatel. Witt visited New Zealand earlier this month.

Colleges can’t dictate to students what hardware and software they should use on their own equipment, so it can’t impose a security policy of the kind common in commercial organisations, says Witt.

Threats have to be detected as and when they appear, and the network then has to contain them.

Alcatel has developed an “on-the-fly” software solution to address this problem that it has already used successfully in the United States.

Alcatel implements the software, called Omnistation Quarantine Manager, on its Omnistation backbone switch. It works by locating an attacking device and applying a quarantine policy to it on the fly, says Witt.

Typically, this will prevent the device from accessing any server on the network apart from a single, quarantined machine that can then interact with the infected device, and its owner, so as to clean-up the infection.

Witt was on a tour of New Zealand, Australia and South-East Asia, talking to Alcatel’s partners, customers and prospective customers. He described how Alcatel had been instrumental in networking — in wired and wireless mode — a number of colleges internationally, particularly in the US.

Broadband cabling allows students, lecturers and researchers, and even alumni, to keep in constant contact, and work together using text, voice and video over IP.

Typical is Gordon College, in Boston, where a network of Alcatel Omnistation 9000 backbone switches and 6850 workgroup switches allows video of lecture material to be broadcast to students remote from the lecture site. It also lets them interact with the lecturer in real-time and collaborate online in writing-up subsequent assignments.

The network was set up progressively, beginning with essential infrastructure and security, in a partnership between the college and Alcatel.

Gordon is a relatively small college, with 3,000 students and a very small resident ICT support team — hence the partnership approach, which has been instrumental in allowing the college to realise its networking vision, says Witt.

Alcatel Australia spokesman Mike Stein says the needs of Australian and New Zealand universities are similar to those of the US. Advanced ICT also plays a significant role in the competition to attract and retain students.

Limited wide area network bandwidth isn’t a significant obstacle when it is assisted by current data compression technology, he says. Keeping in touch with college alumni can be very important when it comes to funding, he says.

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Tags malwarenetworkAlcatelquarantine

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