School City of Hammond, a kindergarten through 12th grade public school corporation located in Hammond, Indiana has 21 sites including 14 elementary schools, two middle schools, two middle/high schools, two high schools, and one career center. In addition to 14,000 students throughout the district, School City of Hammond’s IT department serves about 2,500 employees.
Failing internal email and Web access tests
School City of Hammond faced two major challenges: spam, and student work-arounds. Of the 15,000 to 20,000 emails received daily, 80 percent were spam. This volume of spam was flooding the inboxes of the corporation’s 2,500 employees. Also, many of these emails contained viruses, phishing attacks, and other types of malware.
As a result of the influx of spam and corrupted emails, email usability became a problem. Besides draining valuable bandwidth, the flood of spam made it difficult for end users to manage their emails effectively. The issue not only took away valuable time from administrators and educators working on their core educational mission, it also required Network Administrator Curtis Jackson to spend nearly one hour every day managing spam.
The second challenge came from the fact that 14,000 students throughout the school system have access to the Web, and some of them try to get around the filtering system by using tools like anonymizers and proxies, and by taking advantage of the “HTTPS security loophole” that allows otherwise blocked web sites to be accessed over an encrypted connection. Encrypted content is often beyond the reach of ordinary content filters.
Also, like most school districts, School City of Hammond takes advantage of e-rate fund availability and must comply with the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) by installing web filtering tools. CIPA states that schools must implement “technology protection measures” to prevent access to offensive content. Although the Act does not specifically address the scanning of encrypted content, not doing so violates the spirit (if not the letter) of the legislation.
"With McAfee’s appliance-based solutions, you just plug it in, set it up and let it go. It’s easy to manage and we don’t have to worry about updates. And of course, it’s not hackable. Nobody’s ever had any problems with it."Curtis Jackson
Network Administrator, School City of Hammond
Moving to an appliance-based solution
School City of Hammond had a software-only-based email security solution, which according to Jackson suffered from several limitations, including constant management and administration. Jackson recognized the advantage of an appliance-based solution that requires little administration on the part of the corporation; he began evaluating multiple appliance-based products. During the evaluation, security appliances quickly rose to the top of the stack. Jackson also decided not to consider managed services since he preferred to retain control in-house.
In December 2006, School City of Hammond purchased McAfee Email Gateway (IronMail) and McAfee Web Gateway (Webwasher) products from the McAfee Network Security Business Unit (formerly Secure Computing).
“With McAfee’s appliance based-solution, you just plug it in, set it up and let it go. It’s easy to manage and we don’t have to worry about updates. And of course, it’s not hackable. Nobody’s ever had any problems with it,” explains Jackson.
Another deciding factor in selecting the McAfee solutions was the availability of TrustedSource, McAfee’s reputation-based technology that is integrated into both McAfee Email Gateway and McAfee Web Gateway. “TrustedSource was definitely an incentive to purchase the McAfee products,” adds Jackson.
Stronger website filtering
The schools’ savvy students knew about tricks that some lesser products failed to address, like the notorious SSL loophole that potentially allows them to access any website they want over an encrypted connection. “One of the big reasons we went to McAfee Web Gateway was its ability to scan SSL encrypted content. Students had been able to get around the filtering via SSL, so we knew this loophole needed to be covered.”
Jackson reports that the appliance-based solution works “out of the box” with good ease of use. After a brief training session, he and his team were able to get up to speed very quickly.
Passing security with flying colors
To date, Jackson has been very pleased with the results. He and his team originally acquired McAfee Mail Gateway 6.7 with anti-virus, and McAfee Web Gateway 6.8, providing secure connectivity to all 21 locations. Each location has a server and is fiber-linked to the Network Operations Center, where the McAfee Email Gateway and McAfee Web Gateway appliances are located.
Since deployment, School City of Hammond has seen a dramatic decrease in the amount of spam and virus-laden emails entering the network. This translates to higher productivity for employees, who don’t have to wade through spam in their inboxes. On the management side, Jackson periodically checks the end user quarantine (EUQ) for potential false positives.
“McAfee Email Gateway blocks more than 99 percent of spam and viruses that come into the district,” reports Jackson. “It also reduces demand on our email system bandwidth because it blocks unwanted emails before they reach the network.”The McAfee Web Gateway SSL scanner functionality permits the school to apply security policies to all key Web protocols, including HTTP, FTP and HTTPS so that encrypted content accessed through the Web browser can be managed, controlled and filtered in the same way as ordinary content. “Now, kids aren’t able to get around the Web filters like they used to,” adds Jackson.
There are of course, rare occasions when an instructor may need to access a Web site that has been blocked. “If we’re blocking it, the teacher just sends a simple email to our department and we open it up. It’s never a problem,” says Jackson.
TrustedSource yields unexpected benefits
TrustedSource has proven to be very valuable in keeping students away from inappropriate sites. It also has prevented students from accessing anonymizers to circumvent the district’s filtering system.
School City of Hammond had a case where one vendor’s site was used as a relay to send spam. TrustedSource caught it right away and started blocking email from the vendor. The District contacted the vendor to advise them that their site had been compromised and used as a spam site. “TrustedSource has been helpful to us, and we’ve been able to help somebody else as well,” reports Jackson.