How a national education network ran secure computers without anti-virus

Opinion by Dan Raywood

The search for a secure computing solution for its tuition centres led Explore Learning to consider a sandbox solution with a difference.

The search for a secure computing solution for its tuition centres led Explore Learning to consider a sandbox solution with a difference.

A provider of private maths and English tuition services, Explore Learning is a national network of learning centres for children aged between five and 14 years. The scheme is designed to enhance knowledge, confidence and enjoyment of learning by using interactive computer-based tools that mirror the National Curriculum.

Speaking to SC Magazine, Stuart Morgan, IT director at Explore Learning, said that he has been looking for a solution that allowed users unrestricted access without compromising the network.

This led him to discover Faronics' layered security suite, Deep Freeze. The company said that it automatically restores workstation configurations with every reboot and prevents unwanted or unwelcome changes from sticking, ultimately reducing IT support and callout costs.

Morgan said: “We first looked at Deep Freeze in 2003/4 and have since rolled it out. This installs an agent on the desktop that is separate from the user and when a computer boots up, the whole session is in Deep Freeze. So rather than starting up in Windows, any activity gets stored in a temporary area and this is rebooted and in education this is fantastic.

“You can reboot the machine so if something detrimental has been done to the machine, you can wipe it. There is a constant battle with policies and needs of security and users, but with Deep Freeze you set up profiles and with the sandboxing option there is not this problem.

“We started with the standard version but moved to the enterprise edition so we can reboot the machine. Also, if we want to install software, we can do it in a ‘thawed' state so once it has been updated, we reboot and it re-freezes.”

Morgan explained that his three members of staff are responsible for 2,000 desktops in 48 centres across the UK that are used by 13,000 people. In the past issues were resolved using re-imaging tools to restore PCs back to their original state, but this took 15-20 minutes, however with Deep Freeze it is a standard Windows start-up.

I asked him if there is any problem with malware, or had been in the past. He said that there had not been a problem, as all activity was done in the Deep Freeze sandbox and executables were not relevant either.

He also said that the capabilities of the secure session in Deep Freeze enabled him to remove anti-virus software from the desktops that are running the client, so if a computer gets a virus, it is rebooted.

“We did not remove the anti-virus straightaway, and I would be cautious to recommend doing that but in terms of cost, Deep Freeze is lower per user than anti-virus,” he said.

Kristina Bell, vice president, international at Faronics, said: “This is an excellent example of how our solution can afford peace of mind in a large-scale networked environment that relies on PC performance, security and self-management for business critical operations. With a track record of reducing IT support tickets by up to 63 per cent, Deep Freeze effectively removes helpdesk headaches and lowers the associated costs, as demonstrated by Explore Learning.”

Earlier this year, CNS looked at how a network could be run without a firewall, so could a network being run without any anti-virus be the next frontier?


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