NSW seeks to build unhackable netbook network

Powered by SC Magazine
 

The world's "most hostile computing environment".

The NSW Department of Education is using asset-tracking software, RFID tags, and BIOS-embedded filtering smarts to roll out 240,000 netbook computers into what CIO Stephen Wilson calls "the most hostile environment you can roll computers into" - the local high school.

The rollout of Lenovo netbooks, funded under the Federal Government's Digital Education Revolution initiative, is a massive logistical and IT security challenge, and the solution Wilson and his team has put together to fix these issues could well be applicable to any corporate IT department.

Over four years, some 240,000 Lenovo netbooks will be offered to students in year nine. The netbooks can be kept until year 12, or permanently should the student finish his or her studies at the school. Netbooks are also being offered to teachers.

To take receipt of the netbooks, students and parents are asked to sign forms in which they acknowledge their responsibility to take care of the machines and use them appropriately.

They are armed with an enterprise version of the new Windows 7 operating system, Microsoft Office, the Adobe CS4 creative suite, Apple iTunes, and content geared to students. Although the netbooks are loaded with many hundreds of dollars of software, 2GB RAM and a six-hour battery, the cost to the NSW Department of Education is less than $500 a unit.

Underneath the covers of the netbooks - and within the network that controls them - lies a great deal more smarts to ensure that the total cost of ownership of each machine does not blow out.

Wilson said that while private schools and other states have taken a "carte blanche" approach to handing out laptops as part of the Digital Education Revolution, the DET rollout is "among the more systematic, automated and paperless" projects ever embarked upon.

Security smarts

At the physical layer, each netbook is password-protected and embedded with tracking software at the BIOS level of the machine.

That is administered through an enterprise services bus, which also connects the Remedy suite for asset management, Active Directory for authentication and Aruba's Airwave for wireless network management.

If a netbook were to be stolen or sold, the department can remotely disable it over the network. Even if the hard drive of the machine was swapped out or the operating system wiped, it would be useless to unauthorised users.

Already, it has noted the loss or damage of just six netbooks out of the 20,000 rolled out since August - and have tracked a teacher using their device on a field trip in New Zealand.

While there is a serial number and barcode on each computer, the department said that thieves or students might be able to remove them. To combat this, it is using passive RFID chips on every machine that will enable them to be identified "even if they were dropped in a bathtub".

Being passive, an RFID reader needs to be within close proximity of the device to read it. (Active RFID transmitted a signal back to base.)

The department used the AppLocker functionality within Windows 7 to dictate which applications are installed.

Web access on the netbooks is filtered according to a corporate security policy (using McAfee's SmartFilter technology) plus an additional SOCKS-based proxy client, which provides web filtering at the network layer.

The devices also use Microsoft's Forefront Antivirus technology.

Upgrades

With such a huge fleet of computers in the hands of students, Wilson said it would be "unrealistic" for the department to offer technical support for software applications.

The netbooks were built so that the department can remotely upgrade and patch the devices over a wireless network.

It used Microsoft's System Centre Configuration Manager tool to distribute software down to devices.

The update service switches off once a student finishes year 12.

Wilson said there was no way such a large fleet of machines could be managed at such low cost without the smarts embedded within Microsoft's new operating system.

"There was no way we could do any of this on XP," he said. "Windows 7 nailed it for us."

 


TAFE Courses through SEEK Learning


NSW seeks to build unhackable netbook network
 
 
 
Top Stories
Hockey flags billion-dollar Centrelink mainframe replacement
Claims 30 year-old tech is holding Govt back.
 
Ombudsman wants to monitor warrantless metadata access
Requests ability to report publicly.
 
Frugality as a service: the Amazon story
Behind the scenes, Amazon Web Services is one lean machine.
 
 
Sign up to receive iTnews email bulletins
   FOLLOW US...

Latest VideosSee all videos »

The great data centre opportunity on Australia's doorstep
The great data centre opportunity on Australia's doorstep
Scott Noteboom, CEO of LitBit speaking at The Australian Data Centre Strategy Summit 2014 in the Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia. http://bit.ly/1qpxVfV Scott Noteboom is a data centre engineer who led builds for Apple and Yahoo in the earliest days of the cloud, and who now eyes Asia as the next big opportunity. Read more: http://www.itnews.com.au/News/372482,how-do-we-serve-three-billion-new-internet-users.aspx#ixzz2yNLmMG5C
Interview: Karl Maftoum, CIO, ACMA
Interview: Karl Maftoum, CIO, ACMA
To COTS or not to COTS? iTnews asks Karl Maftoum, CIO of the ACMA, at the CIO Strategy Summit.
Susan Sly: What is the Role of the CIO?
Susan Sly: What is the Role of the CIO?
AEMO chief information officer Susan Sly calls for more collaboration among Australia's technology leaders at the CIO Strategy Summit.
Meet the 2014 Finance CIO of the Year
Meet the 2014 Finance CIO of the Year
Credit Union Australia's David Gee awarded Finance CIO of the Year at the iTnews Benchmark Awards.
Meet the 2014 Retail CIO of the Year
Meet the 2014 Retail CIO of the Year
Damon Rees named Retail CIO of the Year at the iTnews Benchmark Awards for his work at Woolworths.
Robyn Elliott named the 2014 Utilities CIO of the Year
Robyn Elliott named the 2014 Utilities CIO of the Year
Acting Foxtel CIO David Marks accepts an iTnews Benchmark Award on behalf of Robyn Elliott.
Meet the 2014 Industrial CIO of the Year
Meet the 2014 Industrial CIO of the Year
Sanjay Mehta named Industrial CIO of the Year at the iTnews Benchmark Awards for his work at ConocoPhillips.
Meet the 2014 Healthcare CIO of the Year
Meet the 2014 Healthcare CIO of the Year
Greg Wells named Healthcare CIO of the Year at the iTnews Benchmark Awards for his work at NSW Health.
Meet the 2014 Education CIO of the Year
Meet the 2014 Education CIO of the Year
William Confalonieri named Healthcare CIO of the Year at the iTnews Benchmark Awards for his work at Deakin University.
Meet the 2014 Government CIO of the Year
Meet the 2014 Government CIO of the Year
David Johnson named Government CIO of the Year at the iTnews Benchmark Awards for his work at the Queensland Police Service.
Q and A: Coalition Broadband Policy
Q and A: Coalition Broadband Policy
Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott discuss the Coalition's broadband policy with the press.
AFP scalps hacker 'leader' inside Australia's IT ranks.
AFP scalps hacker 'leader' inside Australia's IT ranks.
The Australian Federal Police have arrested a Sydney-based IT security professional for hacking a government website.
NBN Petition Delivered To Turnbull's Office
NBN Petition Delivered To Turnbull's Office
UTS CIO: IT teams of the future
UTS CIO: IT teams of the future
UTS CIO Chrissy Burns talks data.
New UTS Building: the IT within
New UTS Building: the IT within
The IT behind tomorrow's universities.
iTnews' NBN Panel
iTnews' NBN Panel
Is your enterprise NBN-ready?
Introducing iTnews Labs
Introducing iTnews Labs
See a timelapse of the iTnews labs being unboxed, set up and switched on! iTnews will produce independent testing of the latest enterprise software to hit the market after installing a purpose-built test lab in Sydney. Watch the installation of two DL380p servers, two HP StoreVirtual 4330 storage arrays and two HP ProCurve 2920 switches.
The True Cost of BYOD
The True Cost of BYOD
iTnews' Brett Winterford gives attendees of the first 'Touch Tomorrow' event in Brisbane a brief look at his research into enterprise mobility. What are the use cases and how can they be quantified? What price should you expect to pay for securing mobile access to corporate applications? What's coming around the corner?
Ghost clouds
Ghost clouds
ACMA chair Chris Chapman says there is uncertainty over whether certain classes of cloud service providers are caught by regulations.
Was the Snowden leak inevitable?
Was the Snowden leak inevitable?
Privacy experts David Vaile (UNSW Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre) and Craig Scroggie (CEO, NextDC) claim they were not surprised by the Snowden leaks about the NSA's PRISM program.
Latest Comments
Polls
Which bank is most likely to suffer an RBS-style meltdown?





   |   View results
ANZ
  20%
 
Bankwest
  9%
 
CommBank
  12%
 
National Australia Bank
  17%
 
Suncorp
  24%
 
Westpac
  19%
TOTAL VOTES: 1518

Vote