Access Control on College Networks

Recently, I acquired a September back-issue of the student newspaper from my old alma mater, The College of New Jersey. Technically, I attended Trenton State College, but let’s not digress.

As I was flipping through, one of the letters submitted to the editor entitled “Internet security measures vital to network health” caught my eye. It was in response to a opinion piece in the previous issue. I hopped online and found the original student opinion – NAC Restricting College Internet Use. There were two response letters, including one from the IT Manager.

The main complaints from the student was that he was worried about installing the necessary NAC client software because its purpose was not clear, and he did not believe he should be required to use anti-virus software. Finally, the restriction on personal router usage was inconvenient.

I recently posted about internet filtering, so the topic of these letters seemed to strike along the same vein. The responses to the student were clear and to the point, detailing how network access control provides overall network security by preventing access for computers that do not meet the basic network security requirements. I have to agree with with IT Manager on this one, hands down.

Based on the letters, it appears the TCNJ is using Impulse Safe-Connect “Policy Key”, a NAC system used by many colleges. Networks at education institutions are shared by many and it’s important to have measures in place to ensure some management of the variety of computer operating systems that can connect and dictate the basic requirements for using a critical resource. Network access control systems can be a valuable part of network management when direct control over the client machines is not available. For example, Microsoft’s Network Access Protection, can evaluate the “health status” of a Windows computer by checking up-to-date anti-virus software, Windows patch levels and firewall status.

In my opinion, TCNJ doesn’t seem to be asking students to do anything excessive in exchange for what is essentially “free” access to the web. Running a NAC supplicant to check for anti-virus software is a small concession to make for the average student needing average access to the Internet. The college even offers a free anti-virus software as a download. The outraged student needs to spend a little more time hitting the books and less time complaining that he can’t use his router to connect his Xbox.

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