Software Monitors & Provides Internet Usage Statistics

Sewickley Academy, a private K-12 institution in southwestern Pennsylvania, has taken a technological approach to support and reinforce the school's Internet Acceptable Use Policy. In October, 1995, the school implemented an Internet monitoring and control program called SNAG-Secure Net Access Guardian. The network-level program, from Chase Sales Development Co. in Pittsburgh, Pa., is configured to selectively monitor, log and report on Internet activities and restrict access to unacceptable sites for all workstations including both Macs and PCs. Sewickley's network includes over 100 workstations, a Web server, news server, mail server and several dial-in connections. As a condition of using the computer resources, both students and parents must read and sign the school's Acceptable Use Policy. When the SNAG developers approached the Academy's Headmaster, Hamilton Clark, with the idea of implementing the program, he immediately agreed. A Windows NT PC running the SNAG application was connected to the network segment next to the Internet gateway PC. From this central access point the program manages all the Internet traffic to WWW, FTP, Gopher and Telnet sites and automatically logs and records each workstation IP address as the workstation user accesses the Internet.

Selective "Guidance"

"We can now see what Web sites our students are accessing and block out ones that are inappropriate," says Clark. To do this selective blocking, the network administrator defines "access profiles" for each workstation, restricting or de-restricting site access by simply clicking on a Hook "restricted" icon. Clicking on the Check "monitored" icon causes all Internet activities to be logged, including site name, site IP address, time and date of access and the total number of accesses for each site visited. Using one of several database queries, the administrator can sort accessed Internet sites by domain name, type (WWW, FTP, Gopher or Telnet), number of accesses and time. Once a site is identified as unacceptable the administrator "Hooks" the site, making it off-limits to all restricted workstations. When SNAG monitors a user attempting to connect with a restricted site, it reroutes the communication and truncates the attempt. The user experiences a common network error message, no connection takes place and the user is "guided" on to another, more appropriate, location.

Usage Tools Help Teach

"SNAG also allows us to see how heavy our usage is, and to learn about sites that might be useful for other students and teachers," says Clark. The software's monitoring effectively builds an Internet-usage database from which statistical profiles, charts and reports can be generated, further increasing the usefulness of the program. There are several preconfigured reports that administrators can use to present this information, including bar charts depicting Internet usage patterns during the course of a day, the types of sites accessed by topic and when, as well as overall Internet and network utilization. This ability to clearly depict not only usage, but how it is being utilized is an effective tool for evaluating and enhancing computer course effectiveness.

Safe At Home?

After the SNAG program had been in operation for a few weeks, an evaluation of the database yielded some interesting information. Reports indicated that Acceptable Use Policy conformance within the school was very high, practically 100%. The school's dial-in phone lines were discovered to be a weak link, however, with several occurrences of unacceptable site access being noted, generally during weekend hours, and presumably from the relative anonymity of one's home. To further implement the strength of the program, the network administrator simply configured the dial-in lines with monitored and restricted status and now restricts unacceptable sites and infractions as they occur. In this way, dial-in usage is still managed without eliminating the service altogether. "SNAG provides me with a comfort level I never had before," says Clark.

This article originally appeared in the 08/01/1996 issue of THE Journal.