Security Software Enriches Troy City Schools Educational Experience by Providing Safe E-Mail

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In recent years, e-mail has become a valuable tool in the classroom. It has also become an important tool for teachers and administrators to conduct their daily business. While the benefits of e-mail are obvious, spam has become more of a challenge for both IT staff and users within schools. Spam, by its very nature, can be highly offensive and often includes profane language, inappropriate content and/or pornographic images — all of which need to be blocked from students' inboxes. Further compounding the issue of spam is the potential for offensive or harassing content to be sent between users within a school's network.

To address the requirement of schools to block and monitor all e-mail originating both internally and externally, anti-spam technology has emerged as a vital tool. Troy City Schools (online at www.troy.k12.oh.us), located in Central Miami County, Ohio, recognized several years ago that it needed to protect its e-mail users from possible e-mail threats — especially the 4,500 students in its six elementary schools, one junior high and one high school.

Threat to Security

Within the Troy City Schools, each school's computer network is connected to the one high school. All faculty members in the district, as well as all Troy High School students and those attending the Upper Valley Joint Vocational School, have their own e-mail accounts — for a total of 2,500 users. In addition, elementary and junior high students also receive access to e-mail on an as-needed basis for special projects.

Following the implementation of Microsoft Exchange Server 5.5 in 1999, the district's IT department recognized that it had to ensure staff and students weren't receiving inappropriate content regardless of the point of origin. As viruses were becoming a major concern and a threat to overall network security, any new technology to be implemented had to be complementary because there was an existing anti-virus solution running on Exchange Server.

Given the serious impact of students receiving offensive content in the form of spam or the growing possibility of students being bullied and harassed online, Troy City Schools quickly determined that any technology solution needed to enable both internal and external monitoring of all e-mail. Furthermore, given the numerous audiences with distinct needs in the school district, the IT team needed the ability to apply different rules for the monitoring of e-mail to various user groups or based on the location (either internal or external) of the message originator.

Combating Spam

In looking for a solution, the IT team realized that most products would either filter the Exchange Server inbox or the Internet, and that few solutions offered the versatility of filtering all e-mail. Troy City Schools identified one solution that met all of its criteria: Nemx's advanced version of Power Tools for Exchange, an anti-spam and anti-virus solution that offers multiple lines of defense to block spam at the server level before it arrives in the user's inbox, independent of where it originated.

Following the implementation of its new anti-spam solution, Troy City Schools was able to establish a multi-tiered approach to filtering spam that is currently blocking about 11,000 messages daily. Based on the IT team's and the district's overall experience in combating spam over the last few years, they now advocate an approach that provides a series of tools such as filtering based on subject, content and sender. They also support reverse blacklisting technology for checking the IP addresses of the servers sending incoming mail to identify known or suspected spammers.

To meet the need of monitoring and filtering all e-mail (both internal and external) Troy City Schools is also using concept-filtering technology, which is based on thesaurus matching and natural language processing, to identify and block spam in response to message content. This technique has provided the district with an additional layer of protection as it monitors much more than keywords. It also looks at the overall meaning of the message as an individual would to determine if an e-mail is legitimate or spam.

And to meet the ever-changing needs of students and the district itself, Troy City Schools has used its anti-spam solution to apply different rules to students and staff. For example, the system has been configured to ensure that students use e-mail only for school purposes. In addition, all messages with attachments can be easily quarantined, so network administrators can proactively fight back against known viruses.

Creating a Safe Environment

Over the last year, new types of attacks have emerged where viruses and spam converge to strike networks and user inboxes. The Sobig virus was one such attack where viruses struck the operating system and used e-mail to distribute spam. For Troy City Schools, the close integration of the anti-spam solution and the existing anti-virus system have enabled the district to quickly identify and filter out viruses disguised as spam. It has also protected its network against these new and increasingly frequent types of attacks.

For any organization deploying an anti-spam solution, one of the biggest challenges is administration. This is particularly true in the case of an educational organization, as IT budgets tend to be limited and administrators have many areas to oversee. Troy City Schools has been able to quickly configure the anti-spam solution to reduce the time spent reviewing e-mails that are quarantined, or those that are filtered and marked as possible spam.

Instead of reviewing all e-mails, the team has set up an automatic "white list" so e-mails with known addresses can bypass all or some filters, which significantly reduces the time spent reviewing quarantined e-mail on a daily basis. The end result is that the IT staff knows students aren't receiving offensive content, while saving time so other IT duties can be addressed.

At Troy City Schools, and for any school regardless of the age of its students, ensuring a safe environment for facilitating the education of all is the No. 1 priority. By providing e-mail, the district has been able to enrich the educational experience of its pupils, and having the right anti-spam technology in place enables the district to protect them. With the confidence that all users will only receive appropriate e-mail that is relevant to them, now parents can be comfortable with the fact that e-mail is, and will continue to be, a valuable tool in their child's education.

— Jim Myers

Contact Information
Nemx Software Corp.
(613) 831-2010
www.nemx.com

This article originally appeared in the 04/01/2004 issue of THE Journal.

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