University Lab Director Finds Affordable Security Software

As a lab director for Colorado State University, Phil Friedman oversees about 110 desktop computers and an assortment of printers, scanners and other peripherals. Friedman estimates that one-third of the 21,000 CSU students use these labs at some point in the semester. Affiliated with the College of Natural Sciences, the labs make available a variety of mathematical and scientific software including The MathWorks' MATLAB, Waterloo Maple's Maple V and Synergy Software's KaleidaGraph. Local file servers also house productivity applications such as Microsoft Office and Adobe Photoshop. Open to Entire Community The labs also are open to high school and continuing education students for homework or research. Friedman notes that staff don't checks IDs: "If you look like a student, no one challenges you." For the most part, labs stay open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., with extended hours on the weekend. Friedman is responsible for software and hardware purchases and all forms of troubleshooting. Nearly two-thirds of computers have Internet access, allowing visitors to send/receive e-mail, surf the World Wide Web, etc. One lab is tailored for multimedia development; it features equipment and software for authoring content and recording CD-ROMs. Friedman says most programs are installed on local hard drives rather than servers because this reduces the potential that a single glitch will bring all the machines down. Keyserver from Sassafras Software maintains license compliance by limiting the use of applications to a specified number of people. While the university's open-access policy for computer labs saves students and staff time, it poses some problems for Friedman. All equipment is mounted to fixed objects to prevent theft, but the lab director must deal with a different kind of security threat -- the intentional or accidental alteration of sensitive files. Friedman also must battle against computer viruses, which can cause system crashes or other mayhem. Luckily, he has the aid of FoolProof from SmartStuff Software (Portland, Ore.). Developed by educators, this program disables access to applications on the hard disk and/or floppy disks. The Macintosh version, installed at CSU's labs, locks the Control Panel and Chooser; a Windows version limits or denies access to DOS. Both versions maintain the original look and feel of the respective operating system. Looking for Alternatives Friedman says he previously used a sophisticated security package but was not satisfied with its cost or performance so he began to look at alternatives. He obtained several demo disks and reviewed the accompanying literature. According to Friedman, the high-end packages "included lots of things that we didn't need," such as data encryption and support for thousands of passwords. In contrast, Friedman and his colleagues found FoolProof to be "simple and stable," not to mention significantly cheaper than other programs. He estimates that FoolProof cost him about $14 per copy versus $72 for the high-end product. "We evaluated it, liked it and purchased it." "FoolProof is impenetrable for 99% of students. We're very happy with it." Besides its price, a major advantage of FoolProof was its transparency. Version 2.6 offers two levels of access, one for the administrator and another for everybody else. (Version 3.0, due to be released this fall, will allow multiple configuration parameters.) Friedman configured the software to prevent students from copying files, rearranging contents of the hard disk or launching applications from floppies. FoolProof also designates where students can save their work; some hard disks, for example, contain special partitions for the public. 'Right on Target' Friedman notes that the technical support staff at SmartStuff "always seemed to be right on target and were easy to get a hold of." When an operating system upgrade caused some glitches, the firm quickly mailed CSU a "patch" to fix it. Since adopting the program in January 1996, he has encountered no major security breaches. "FoolProof is impenetrable for 99% of students. We're very happy with it."

This article originally appeared in the 11/01/1996 issue of THE Journal.