Untrustworthy students: lighten your restrictions

Summary:You know the drill. You spend thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars on higher education at your college or university of choice.

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You know the drill. You spend thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars on higher education at your college or university of choice. But when you go to use your Internet connection or a public computer on campus, you login and it's locked down so tight, you can barely fart without the IT personnel knowing about it. Where did the trust go?

I'm lucky because on my campus, we're trusted to some degree, and we don't have restrictions unless they pose a security risk to the network; installing applications without administrative privileges for example. Some of you though aren't so lucky - capped connections, locked down browsers, a Gestapo web filter and backend systems trying to catch every "naughty" thing you do.

Maybe you want to download something you know you shouldn't, but you know you need. Maybe you need to find some research which is blocked because it contains swearing. For goodness sakes, in my old school we couldn't Google the town "Scunthorpe" because it had an extremely rude word in the middle of it. I personally feel sorry for those living in this small village in Scotland.

A somewhat unethical post, you may think. You're right, but I'm hardly "Mr. Plays by the Rules", now am I?

[?]Wait a cotton picking minute: don't think for one minute you should do anything illegal with this. Oh no, this is merely for educational reasons, ie. accessing material which you need for academic purposes but for some reason you can't. Don't be breaking the law or University regulations now, otherwise somewhere a little kitten dies as a result of your law breaking. You've been warned.There are a few things you can do to relieve some of your restrictions. Let's just run through a few of them, and if you've got any more suggestions, feel free to post them in the Talkbacks.

Browse freely If you've heard of a proxy server, this is exactly the same principle. Instead of going through your ISP or university servers, you (somehow) bypass that and run through another websites' proxy server. By using a proxy, you can bypass any filtering software on the network, to access the research which you need. As I mentioned with "Scunthorpe", because it has a rude word embedded in there, some software's cannot distinguish this and blocks even legitimate websites anyway.

With many of these proxy websites, it also removes the title of the web page. If Rangersuite is on your network and an "unauthorised word" is mentioned in the title, your browser is automatically closed without warning, regardless of whether it is a legitimate site or not. This allows you to browse freely without having your work shut down in front of you. Not only that, a lot of social networking websites are blocked through filtering software on the network, and we already know social networks can be a major part of the learning process.

Portable applications Many networks block downloading and installing of software, and rightly so. The amount of software out there which many students download is packed with malware and bugs, which collectively can bring an entire network down. By downloading portable applications such as Portable Firefox, Portable OpenOffice and Portable VLC to a flash drive, this allows you to run the programs that you want to use without installing anything.

There are loads of portable applications out there and the list is getting bigger and bigger. Many IT administrators say Firefox is a security risk, when in fact it's more secure than Internet Explorer; they say that because IE is incredibly easy to roll out to an entire network with no more than a few click of a button.

Good news for Mac fans as well. If you're stuck on a Windows only network, like many networks are nowadays, you can even download a specialist "Mac on a stick"; Mac OS Classic 7 downloaded to a portable flash drive allows you to run a version of Mac OS, granted a little old, on any workstation.

Blocked or hidden drives Regardless for what reason, some drives in My Computer are hidden or blocked from access. There are, however, two methods of gaining access.

  1. In a directory where you do have full access, right click then go to New > Shortcut.
  2. In the New Shortcut dialog, type in the drive letter, such as:  c: then hit Next, then Finish.
  3. Double click, and there's your drive.

Should this fail to work, you could also try the computer drive browser. For security reasons, you have to download the HTML script and save it to a local area, as it won't run from the web. By typing in the address of where you want to go, such as C:Program Files, it'll load it up for you.

If these don't work, it's just not meant to be I'm afraid.

Lock an unlockable computer Have you ever wanted to go for a coffee, a smoke, or something to eat, and you want to lock your computer but you can't? Often IT administrators disable the "Lock Computer" function in Windows because in hotdesking areas, other people can't use your machine unless they ask the user to unlock it; failing that they ask the IT administrators, but everybody knows the IT admin's can't be arsed to do anything.

You can get around this by downloading a freeware application which replaces the Windows key + L replacement. With a quick Google search, you can find many to secure your computer when you walk away for 5 minutes.

If all else fails... Have you ever heard of a Live CD? It's an operating system on a CD or DVD, which you can download, customise, fiddle around with, burn, and then use instead of a computer. There are many distributions of Live CD's, especially Linux, but instead of using the operating system installed on a computer, this temporarily replaces it.

You turn the computer on, whack in the CD and it starts to load it before the hard drive kicks in. From here, you can load up a temporary operating system which you've downloaded and customised, enabling you to have full access to a computer. Once you take the CD out and restart the computer, the previous operating system kicks in - as if you were never there...

Topics: Software, Apple, Browser, CXO, Hardware, Networking, Operating Systems, Software Development

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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