Jefferson County Public Schools is the largest school district in Colorado, offering a variety of learning opportunities to more than 85,000 students. The district comprises 148 elementary, middle, high, option and charter schools and everything from small schools in mountain communities to large urban campuses. With more than 11,000 employees, Jefferson County Public Schools is also one of the county’s largest employers.
Unwanted spam—and worms—quickly become an overwhelming problem
In 2003, email defense became a critical issue to Colorado’s largest school district. First, employees complained about spam, and gradually they became inundated with spam—with some employees receiving more than 200 unsolicited email messages per day. Scott Bell, executive director of infrastructure services for Jefferson County Public Schools, remembers one employee in particular—a webmaster who is also a grandmother—getting slammed with spam, mostly pornographic. “We started receiving big-time complaints about spam,” Bell says. “Some users got frustrated and just started deleting everything. Thanks to spam, email was becoming ineffective.”
As if the situation wasn’t bad enough already, along came the Sobig worm in August 2003. “Sobig crippled us for about a week—we couldn’t use the network at all,” Bell says. “This one event really spurred us to find an email threat solution. We were getting annoyed with spam, but Sobig stopped us. We had to do something to make sure our email was invulnerable to viruses and worms.”
Needed: A solution that protects against spam, viruses, and worms
The school system’s infrastructure services team needed a comprehensive solution that would protect the network from spam as well as email-borne viruses and worms. The team considered both email defense appliances and software solutions, but rejected these because they would have to be managed internally and were expensive to purchase. According to Bell, running an anti-virus software solution on top of the school system’s mail server would cost $50,000—and that didn’t include spam protection. He also estimated that managing an anti-spam appliance or software solution would require half of one employee’s time, not including man hours for overseeing virus protection.
“If we selected a software or appliance solution, we’d have to manage it, and we have enough to do already. Besides, we’re a government entity, so we’re not getting more head count,” Bell says. “We realized a managed service was our best bet.” Bell chose the McAfee SaaS Email Protection service (formerly MX Logic® Email Defense Service) based on its reputation and features such as end-user quarantine management and end-user allow and deny lists.
A robust solution at the perimeter protects email and empowers end users
McAfee SaaS Email Protection is easy to administer and use, and requires no integration or migration. Using the McAfee Control Console, an intuitive Web-based email threat management platform, administrators like Bell can easily configure and control how spam, viruses, worms and inappropriate content are filtered, and set parameters around end-user quarantine management. Once email is filtered, suspect messages are stored in a safe, external quarantine on the customers’ behalf. McAfee’s sophisticated quarantine can be managed by the corporate IT department, end users or both. When IT administrators elect to have employees manage their quarantine (as Bell did), end users receive a “Spam Quarantine Report” that shows all messages that were blocked during a specified time period. Significantly reducing the amount of time the IT department must spend managing spam, these Spam Quarantine Reports enable end users to develop their own allow and deny lists to prevent delivery of spam and messages with inappropriate content. Employees can also simply and quickly delete or forward quarantined email.
"The ability to give our end users control over their own spam quarantines was important to us, and its comprehensive features and seamless operation made us decide on McAfee SaaS Email Protection."Scott Bell
Executive Director, Infrastructure Services, Jefferson County Public Schools
“The ability to give our end users control over their own spam quarantines was important to us, and its comprehensive features and seamless operation made us decide on McAfee SaaS Email Protection,” Bell says. “With the exception of once in awhile tweaking black lists to suit our needs, we don’t have to install updates or do anything to manage this service.”
After what Bell describes as a “very impressive trial,” the district implemented SaaS Email Protection, which included virus protection, in September 2003. “McAfee was very easy to implement,” Bell says. “We just established one rule set that applies to our entire school district—160 locations—and then pointed our MX record to McAfee.”
By redirecting its MX record, all outside email is received by McAfee first, which filters the email and then redirects it to Jefferson County Public Schools. This conceals Jefferson County Public Schools’ Internet-facing mail servers and gateways and protects them from attack. The efficacy was instantly apparent: immediately after its implementation, county employees stopped receiving spam.
“When we removed all the spam employees were getting, we actually got a lot of thank-you notes— and IT departments typically don’t get thank-you notes,” Bell says. “Now, everybody takes McAfee SaaS Email Protection for granted.’’
When it comes to virus protection, Bell knew that a layered approach was the best solution. Jefferson County Public Schools receives protection from McAfee’s proprietary WormTraq worm-detection technology, which identifies and intercepts zero-hour threats (such as the Sobig and Sober worms); often hours before anti-virus services can distribute signature updates to their customers.
“When I hear about organizations getting hit by viruses and worms, I smile and say, ‘That’s why we pay for McAfee.’ Since we implemented this service, we’ve had no more network-crippling outbreaks from external sources,” Bell notes.
And because McAfee scans Jefferson County Public Schools’ email before sending it on, the school system’s firewall has been configured to allow incoming mail from McAfee only. “This provides much more security for us,” Bell says. “We don’t have hundreds of thousands of hackers trying to find vulnerability on our mail server. They can’t initiate anything—like Denial of Service attacks—against us, because they can’t access our servers.”
Saving taxpayers $3.2 million
The Control Console feature of McAfee SaaS Email Protection also provides a wide range of real-time daily, weekly and monthly reports, which enable Bell to quickly analyze and track email traffic and trends. “The McAfee reports are very easy to use, enabling me to quickly gather my statistics for monthly traffic and threat overviews,” Bell says. “It’s nice to have a month-by-month play, because I pop these statistics into a spreadsheet and get a graph showing email trends.”
Using the McAfee reports, Bell gathered the following 12-month statistics:
"If we hadn’t had McAfee for the past couple of years, our email system would be unusable today."Scott Bell
Executive Director, Infrastructure Services, Jefferson County Public Schools
According to Bell, these statistics indicate that, by stopping spam from entering the Jefferson County Public Schools network, McAfee has saved taxpayers more than $3.2 million in one year. “If we assume that each email takes 30 seconds to deal with, then we’ve saved our district approximately 128,266 person-hours, or 16,033 person-work-days, in the last 12 months,” he says. “If we assume the average employee cost with benefits is $25 per hour, then McAfee has helped us save $3,206,659 in lost productivity in the last 12 months. This doesn’t include the lost productivity that would be caused by computer virus infections if we didn’t have McAfee.”
Bell employs one email administrator for the district, who now focuses on delivering legitimate email—instead of dealing with system overloads from spam and eradicating email viruses. “If we hadn’t had McAfee for the past couple of years, our email system would be unusable today,” Bell concludes. “We were killed with Sobig, then we subscribed to McAfee and now we don’t have worm outbreaks or have to deal with spam anymore. McAfee has made life a lot nicer for everybody—and it’s been a job saver to me.”