Smith College, located in Northampton, Massachusetts, is the largest liberal arts college for women in the U.S. Founded in 1871, the College’s mission is to instill leadership skills in its students, set new standards of education, and encourage its students to change the world.
Setting new standards is also part of the College’s Internet security goals. When the Information Technology Services (ITS) department began spending nearly 80 percent of its time fighting virus and spam issues, Director of Systems and Networking Group Ben Marsden decided to seek a more proactive and robust security solution.
Sasser Worm provides a wake-up call
In September 2004, Smith College was infected with the Sasser computer worm, which coincided with the students’ return to school. Despite having an industry anti-virus solution installed, Sasser quickly penetrated all of the College’s Windows machines, opened up vulnerable network ports, and caused havoc for the ITS department.
The attack prompted the ITS group to discuss alternatives for desktop and Internet security. Marsden, who began working for Smith College in 1999, was familiar with McAfee from his prior work at a systems integration company. At his urging, the College decided to standardize on McAfee.
“We came to the decision that McAfee was the right product for us because it was always ahead of desktop security issues and we were able to easily support it in the field,” says Marsden.
Shortly thereafter, Marsden purchased and deployed McAfee VirusScan® Enterprise on every desktop and server platform, and installed McAfee AntiSpyware Enterprise on every employee desktop. In addition, students are prompted to automatically update their laptops each year as they log back onto the school network.
Now when a user logs into the network from their PC, a security check is run before access to the network is granted. If McAfee is not installed and up to date, the client stays isolated from the school’s network, thus preventing potential virus or malware outbreaks from occurring.
“It’s nice to know that McAfee’s research labs continually alert us to new threats so we can stay on top of it. At the same time, McAfee will indicate if certain protection is needed or already in place, so there’s no guesswork involved,” Marsden says.
McAfee rescues email from spam overload
During the school year, Smith College receives nearly four million emails a week, and only about 10 percent of those are legitimate. For two years, Marsden’s counterpart, Systems Administrator Bob Andrews, spent nearly three hours every day manually tweaking spam rules to guard against Smith College changes in spammers’ techniques. While Marsden deployed the anti-virus solutions, Andrews tackled the onslaught of spam by installing McAfee Email and Web Security Appliance 3200. From the first day, it was completely effective.
“Deploying the McAfee appliance was really simple. Once it was physically in the network, we had it running within a few hours,” says Andrews. What’s more, now that Andrews has turned on the filter and set its restriction level, he doesn’t have to monitor it. “The best part of McAfee is that it does its job so non-intrusively, you don’t even realize it is working until an alert pops up,” says Andrews.
The system is configured to quarantine “grey mail,” so the minor amount of questionable email that does make it past the servers’ email filters goes directly into the users’ email quarantine system for safe handling.
Phishing attacks prompt user education
McAfee Email and Web Security Appliance also helps the College guard against occasional email-born phishing attacks in a simple two-step process. First, McAfee analyzes all email subject headers to stamp and block potential phishing messages. Then, McAfee analyzes all email headers and content to block known phishing messages. Finally, it modifies potential phishing attacks with an alert warning to the user. These email warnings help the College continually educate students and staff about what kinds of malicious emails to avoid.
"We’ve had so much success with McAfee already that we now have the time to look more strategically at our Internet security needs."Ben Marsden
Director of Systems and Networking Group, ITS Smith College
“McAfee always keeps abreast of the latest outbreaks, so our confidence is high that McAfee will push out threat mitigation as needed in a timely fashion,” says Andrews.
Marsden also uses McAfee ePolicy Orchestrator® (ePO™) to facilitate the rollout of new anti-virus and anti-spam upgrades on the ITS department’s workstations.
Smart support for a limited staff
Marsden values McAfee’s responsive and reliable support. Whenever he has a question, he uses the McAfee support portal on the Internet.
“We have a good rapport with support. I can use the Internet chat feature and get a response from an engineer almost instantly. If they aren’t able to answer my question right away, they’ll escalate the question to a higher-level person. I’m always confident I’m going to get the support I need to get the issue fixed,” says Marsden.
Looking to a more secure future
For the future, Marsden is working on a risk assessment of the College’s security profile, which includes its generalized security policies and initiatives, and the types of data it has and how that data is being used. He is also working on business continuity initiatives for the College’s infrastructure.
“We’ve had so much success with McAfee already that we now have the time to look more strategically at our Internet security needs,” concludes Marsden. “We know McAfee will do its job when new threats come along, so we can do ours.”