Last fall when the students at Lasell College in Newton, Mass went back
to school, they brought posters, CDs, books… and a whole lot of
viruses. 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 and
professors should have been digging into their course work, not much was
getting done. IT workers at the college had to stop whatever projects
they were working on to not only clean up the servers but to
individually visit the school’s 1,100 students and clean the viruses off
”It was definitely a nightmare,” says Deborah Gelch, chief information
officer at Lasell College, a liberal arts school running 28 Windows NT
servers, 400 faculty and staff desktops, and 10 wireless access points.
”Last year was a disaster… It was a critical time for students to
start their homework and get onto email. They’re already nervous about
school and now they can’t get onto the network. It was a panicky
But there was no downtime and no panicking this year.
With the help of Perfigo, Inc., a San Francisco-based network security
company, getting this fall’s crop of students online was a much easier
”What happened this year is exactly what was supposed to happen,” says
Gelch. ”Students couldn’t log onto the network until their machines
were clean and they had updated anti-virus software and were patched for
Windows vulnerabilities… The network ran perfectly through the whole
Perfigo, which has a significant presence in the academia world but is
looking to break into the corporate arena, won’t allow new accounts to
access the network until they’ve met a few requirements, which are set
up by the IT administrator. For instance, a student or new employee
would not be able to get onto the network until the desktop or laptop is
scanned to make sure that it has up-to-date anti-virus software and the
latest patches, and isn’t carrying any viruses. If it doesn’t meet those
criteria, the user is then walked through the needed processes.
Rohit Khetrapal, president Perfigo, says the issue that the college had
translates 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 control
over their laptops. If you want to be on my network, you must correct
this infection in your machine. I see who you are and I will give you
access into your email, but I will not let you on my network. I will
keep you on an isolated network that does not touch my environment in
any way, shape or form.”
Khetrapal says partners, clients, big customers and consultants all are
prime candidates to carry a virus or Trojan onto the network.
But Gordon Haff, an analyst at Illuminata, an industry research firm
based in Nashua, N.H., says scanning laptops might become an issue when
the user isn’t an employee and she has proprietary or confidential
information on her machine.
”From the network that’s doing the scanning point of view, it’s a level
of security. From the scannee’s point of view, though, they would have
some legitimate concerns about that being done,” says Haff. ”As
consultants we have confidential client information on our system, and
it 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 their
machine in any way shape or form,” he points out. ”Is this machine
blasting something malicious? Is there a port open? Is this machine
vulnerable? You’re looking at the behavior from this machine and you’re
not 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 job
this fall instead of running interference on the network and with
several thousand angry and petulant students.
Last fall, Anderson’s network administrator Stuart Hilbert was left
wrangling with a harsh Blaster attack, which plagued his network through
most of the school year. Knowing that Blaster was a major problem,
Hilbert’s IT team asked students to bring their machines into the IT
department to have them scanned before they went online. Only about 600
of the 1,400 on-campus students with laptops and desktops did so.
The other 800 students ignored warnings and heavily infected the
”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 them
patched. And that wasn’t my job. It was nobody’s job. As we did that, we
started neglecting other things. My job last year was to manage the help
desk 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 a
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 the
network until their systems had been scanned and OKed. This time, there
was 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’s
unbelievable,” says Hilbert. ”Five days in, we had 90 percent
completion of the process, and we’d been hoping for 85 percent or 80
percent. Most of that was done by the students. We weren’t spending time
in their dorm rooms this year.”
Both Anderson and Lasell colleges have set up Perfigo to rescan the
students’ computers on a periodic basis, keeping them up-to-date with
the latest patches.
”As far as our responsibility to provide a smooth running network, we
were able to do that no problem,” says Gelch. ”And now our students
are much more educated on how to manage their own computers.”