Focus on Learning

Focus on Learning

Internet solutions so simple teachers can focus on the classroom

Here is how a leading primary school in the United Kingdom solved a problem of providing Internet security tools to protect staff from a variety of security threats when accessing the school’s online resources and network from home, keeping the focus on learning.

Goldsworth Primary School

Goldsworth Primary School is a co-educational day school, situated in Woking, Surrey, U.K. It moved to its current location in 1994 and the building is designed for 420 students, ages 4-11.

Goldsworth prides itself on having the highest educational standards, with a faculty dedicated to nurture each child to his or her fullest potential of learning and growing during the school year. And the school’s track record shows these goals are being achieved. The school has been rated an outstanding school by Ofsted, the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills. This is the highest level of assessment.

Starting at age 4, students receive education delivered through a broad and balanced school curriculum within a caring, stimulating and challenging environment. This strong approach to education helps inspire the students to become confident, independent learners. With this confidence, students participate in all school activities with the desire to excel.

From entry to graduation, it is important that students fully understand what is expected of them and know that their opinions are valued. Goldsworth’s children are well motivated in a secure, happy atmosphere where they receive relevant praise and encouragement.

The Challenge

In December of 2010, Jo Barber, IT technician for Goldsworth, recognized that the school needed to provide a way to allow both teaching and support staff full access to the school network from home. Because security is an essential priority to the school’s network access, a two-factor authentication solution was deemed vital as well.

“I noticed that many members of our teaching staff were taking their work home with them,” Barber said. “This can be expected, but we wanted to make sure this was being done in the most effective way possible. We didn’t want our teachers to be forced to carry their laptops or memory sticks back and forth with them every day. This was not only an inconvenience but also a security risk to our school’s network.”

Home-based and remote computers of teachers and support staff were not guaranteed to be under the same robust security standards as those on the school’s premises. With computers moving from home to the school’s network, and with the increased use of social media networks and a variety of potential e-mail threats, Barber didn’t want to take the chance of an accidental virus or malware outbreak. Secure VPN connectivity from these remote computers to provide remote desktop services from the school’s network would be a vital key to keeping the network and individual staff safe.

“In addition to the convenience and safety need for two-factor secure remote connectivity, the school also was going through the process of becoming an academy, a process in which it’s essential for staff to participate,” Barber said. “The application to become an academy consists of a four-step submission and review process that can often last three to four months. During this time period our administration staff had an increased responsibility, in addition to their normal workload, to participate in the submission process, which required more time spent working from their home computers.”

In May 2010, the U.K. secretary of state for education announced The Academies Act 2010. This new legislation allowed the secretary of state to approve applications from schools that wish to become academies. The Academies Act 2010 was put in place to allow more schools to benefit from academy freedoms and flexibilities. Academies are publicly funded independent schools, free from local authority control. Becoming an accredited academy helps Goldsworth to innovate, raise standards and help students achieve even more than they do already.

Barber needed an IT security solution that combined effective security with ease of use and could fit within the confines of the school’s tight budget. Because the public increasingly measures school budgets tied directly to the classroom, balancing the requirements of effective and simple security with limited budgets eliminated several options the school was considering.

Two-factor Authentication

With a tight budget, Barber evaluated solutions that not only would fit her twofactor authentication and security requirements but that were also easy to install and required low maintenance. After reviewing several vendors and applications, Barber discovered the convenience and high security solution offered by Yubico. “We settled on a VPN solution using YubiKey to provide two-factor authentication,” Barber said. “The technology uses YubiRADIUS for authentication, which itself connects to our Microsoft Active Directory and YubiCloud authentication. “Yubico’s free and downloadable software gave us a quick and easy method to set up this two-factor authentication solution.”

Goldsworth began the implementation of YubiKeys as a two-factor authentication solution in March 2010 with its staff of five administrators as a pilot and then rolled out to the teaching staff quickly thereafter.

Once staff had YubiKeys, they were instantly able to securely connect to the remote desktop server, log in and work as if they were in the building. The YubiKey simplifies the process of logging in with a One-time Password (OTP) token, as it does not require the user to retype long passcodes from a display device into the login field of the computer.

Staff members simply have to insert the YubiKey into a USB port of their home computer and the OTP is generated and automatically entered with a simple touch of a button on the YubiKey, without the need for any client software or drivers. Additionally, the secure twofactor authentication for remote access allowed the school to deploy simpler and more user-friendly policies for network access when at school.

Teachers are quickly able to share the day’s agendas, lesson plans and best practices and review student materials from their home computers while saving documents and other materials directly on the network server. The remote VPN connectivity also allows teachers to access networked printers, enabling them to print their materials from their home computer to in-school printers, greatly increasing productivity. YubiKeys are rugged, ultra-thin, battery-free, crush safe and waterproof, making them virtually indestructible, a design that been fundamental to the success of the YubiKey, currently used by more than a million users globally.

Work, Life Balance

“Staff have welcomed this new way of working as they no longer need to carry heavy laptops to and fro,” said Paulone Alexander, head teacher at Goldsworth. “Plus there is an improved work/life balance with the ability to work from home or, indeed, anywhere.”

Since implementation, staff and teachers at the school enjoy the ease of use and increased productivity they have obtained from their secure VPN connection with the YubiKey.

The additional requirements put on the staff and teachers from the submission and application to become an academy became greatly streamlined by the ability to securely work from home and directly share data with other staff members.

“Ease of use, low cost, and the fact that we have had zero problems since we have deployed the YubiKeys is absolutely brilliant,” Barber said. “Our priority at this school is to educate our children, and we couldn’t work with a solution that took a lot of time or was constantly requiring maintenance. To date, there have been no issues or maintenance required on the YubiKey two-factor authentication solution for our remote access, it has been a perfect fit for Goldsworth Primary School.”

This article originally appeared in the January 2012 issue of Security Today.


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