New system for student IT security

The University of Lincoln’s IT department is implementing a new system to help protect students’ computers from viruses and other nasties. It will check that students have adequate protective software on their computers before allowing them to connect to the University’s network. The plan aims to stop any nefarious computer bugs from spreading via the network and causing problems with either other students’ computers, or the University’s.

The IT department hopes the system will make it safer for students when using their computers in the student courts, and prevent problems that have occured in the past. | Photo: Samuel Cox

The department already provides free anti-virus software to all students and staff. Mike Day, head of the University’s IT department, says that the idea is “to make sure the student experience is safe” and the new system will allow them to be more proactive in making sure students have adequate anti-virus protection.

It will only be in use for students living in the University Courts at the Brayford Campus, and at Riseholme. It is hoped to be fully operational by the time students come back from the Christmas break. Mr Day says this is because freshers often get their first permanent computer at Christmas.

The department hopes that it will be a seamless transition for students. Mr Day said: “The process is the same that they’ll already go through now to get on to the network. It won’t look very different from the students’ point of view, but the checks in the background may well be different ones, more extensive as we roll this out. We really don’t want to shoot ourselves in the foot by introducing something that’s supposed to help and it actually doesn’t.”

To help this aim, Stuart Hickling, a desktop support officer, said: “We’re not going to rush the process. If the consultations highlight problems we’ll go back and address them. We need user feedback to make sure that the process is simple and easy to follow.”

Ian Marshall, the University’s IT infrastructure manager, says another benefit is that it will be easier to connect gaming consoles to the network, though this may not happen straight away.

Privacy concerns were raised when Dan Derricott, a part-time Students’ Union officer, solicited student feedback on the idea and asked: “Would you be happy for the University to scan your PC? Surely it would just catch out those machines that could cause damage — or might it go further?”

But Mr Marshall is keen to stress that it would in no way infringe students’ privacy. He says: “None of these checks actually install anything on the machines. There is [a program] that runs, but it doesn’t stay on your harddisk or in your memory at all. It just runs and reports back.”

In addition, what is reported back is very limited, says Mr Day. “The only information we record is the fact that someone’s passed the checks and therefore they can access our system. That’s all that gets recorded.”

The University will benefit from the past experiences of other institutions, says Mr Hickling. “We’re in the fortunate position that there’s 500 other institutions that are already using this, 90 plus in this country. We’re liaising with other universities that are also using this system so we can benefit from their experience as well.”

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