Should universities allow student devices on the network?

Should universities allow student devices on the network?

Summary: Striking a balance between piracy, productivity and academic freedom: or restricted bandwidth, page blockers and website monitoring.

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As I spend the last few weeks of my undergraduate degree winding down until my graduation in July, I reflect on one of the most important liberties that students are given, as some of the greatest freedoms in society; arguably even greater than some of those possessed by the ordinary citizen.

And as students take advantage of these liberties with little caution to the provisions they are given, and the freedom to express and enjoy the technologies they have, one question opened up over others.

The university IT infrastructure, in any institution is hallowed ground. To use, is one thing. To abuse, however, has a significant effect on the rest on the entire university population.

In reality, there is no difference from students bringing their laptop onto campus and connecting to the wireless network from the library cafe, to employees bringing their home-bought devices into the workplace and connecting to the corporate network.

But there is. Employees bring their devices to fulfil their own sense of productivity, while students bring whatever they have at their disposal for necessary work.

By which, when I say 'necessary work', I do in fact mean ten percent college work, and the remaining ninety percent spending time on Facebook and downloading torrents from the web.

It should come as no surprise that it was recently reported that over 75% of enterprise networks have policies in place to bring your own devices into work.

But with non-managed devices attached to the enterprise/corporate network, as is the university network, comprising of laptops, tablets and smartphones feed off the waves of the university wireless network; there is greater scope for insecurity and abuse.

So many students take advantage of the often unlimited download speeds and the freedom to browse any website, without the restrictive measures often seen in the corporate environment, like port blocking, site filtering and website monitoring.

But it links back again to this wonderful notion of 'academic freedom'. It is, in its simplest state, a 'bill of rights' to ensure that those can study freely without fear of repression or restricted liberties.

Academic freedom notwithstanding, some students do study the psychology of pornography, the politics of whistleblowing, or in my case, the fundamentals of post-modern terrorism.

The requirement to access violent content, ordinarily blocked on an 'ordinary' network, such as a horrific though telling video of an execution, is vital to understand the core demeanour of what we consider 'state terrorism'. I tend not to eat breakfast nowadays, for that very reason. An empty stomach helps.

I digress; but nevertheless the point is pertinent to the discussion.

One of the significant issues for universities is the paradigm of piracy versus productivity. The two do in fact go hand in hand, though many of you will no doubt disagree.

One's device is not simply an accessible device to the university network, but more crucially, a mass storage device. A student can spend all afternoon downloading content from Rapidshare or torrents, depending on their level of skill, to their portable mass storage device - their laptop or tablet - for consumption when they leave campus and go back home.

And this opens up the university to risks. It's their network; therefore they can be liable for any infringement made.

However, there is never enough managed student PCs to go around on campus. Even in my experience, you bring your laptop or netbook as a necessary contingency, as so many students will be chained to them and likely their social network, too.

It's a fine balance to strike, between piracy, productivity, and academic freedom. But what would you choose: yea or nay?

Topics: Networking, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility, Wi-Fi

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24 comments
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  • I thought many already did

    By either having a separate network for them in WiFi or Hardwired and/or using something like a Network Access Control device that the students installed an application that would check to see if their computer had the latest patches, security software, and look for questionable software like P2P software and what not.

    I know when my sister was in college she had an App from a Cisco device that did those things.
    bobiroc
  • You missed the crucial difference

    Employers pay their employees. College students pay the college. Does it justify the gratuitous *wire usage that runs around the campus? of course not. But to say there's no difference between an infrastructure paid for by the people using it in order to serve their needs and one that is paid for by an employer by their customers and shareholders is something different entirely.

    Let's take piracy out of the equation. If someone who has dial-up at home spends their time buying half a dozen games on Steam, is that abuse of the network? If a user backs up their hard disk to carbonite or acronis online using the college LAN, is that abuse? Conversely, one of my friends from college used to make a killing by going around and installing his cracked copy of the Adobe Master Collection to all the graphic design majors for $10 a pop from a CD. Is that less of a problem?

    Joey
    voyager529
    • RE: Should universities allow student devices on the network?

      @voyager529

      You missed the crucial difference too. While college students (or their parents) are paying the school they are paying for a service. That college or university supplies the network and internet and has the absolute right to say what can and cannot be done on that network within reason. To block out anything illegal or questionably illegal is not unreasonable.

      As far as the bandwidth goes that is open for debate because you have a point on your side but seeing as colleges have thousands upon thousands of students and there is only so much bandwidth available they have to so some monitoring of it's usage. I would hope they would have some sort of device in the mix that would basically make it so no one computer or group of computers could eat up all the bandwidth. Should they block media streaming and online gaming, No. But they should block the obtaining or usage of illegal software and media if they can. After all if the MPAA, RIAA, or any other group active in Piracy got involved the organization has to prove it has measures in place to try and prevent this type of activity. After all it is their network and their liability so they have to cover their own ass.
      bobiroc
      • RE: Should universities allow student devices on the network?

        @bobiroc <br>"To block out anything illegal or questionably illegal is not unreasonable."<br><br>The problem with that statement is the 'questionably illegal' part. More often than not, the 'evil' app has quite a few legitimate uses, and in the majority of cases were designed for the 'legal' use, but abused by pie rats. College blocks torrent? They're canning many legal downloads, such as Linux of many flavors. I know you can get them via HTTP/FTP, but most of us use torrents to lower the host's server costs. Ultimately, the issue is the 'questionable' bit -- some misinformed dips that read the media's constant line of "p2p, the illegal network(s)" and don't learn to separate the content from the network. That one irritates me because it is like saying roads are only for drug trafficking, only because quite a few people transport drugs and other illegal materials on them.<br><br>Also, "As far as the bandwidth goes that is open for debate because you have a point on your side but seeing as colleges have thousands upon thousands of students and there is only so much bandwidth available they have to so some monitoring of it's usage."<br><br>There is a bit of a point there, but quite frankly if a college is using tuition, as well as the tax dollars they rake in, for the *current* students, and for the students instead of stuffing pockets and such, then they should have the network infrastructure to handle the traffic that students generate. That is the line that many ISPs take as well; "We're too busy stuffing our greedy pockets to upgrade the infrastructure -- so we'll just screw over our customers instead!"<br><br>If the college can't keep up with technology, then they should gtfo and let an ISP handle it... and lower tuition.

        Oh, and there is technology that they should learn about: traffic shaping. If they want/need to prioritize, then they could always use BSD-pf-ALTQ. There are even (free) distros out there tailored to ease of use -- pfSense, m0n0wall, etc.
        Liath.WW
      • RE: Should universities allow student devices on the network?

        @bobiroc

        College students have also been known to bring weapons and drugs to class. So to block anything that is questionably illegal from the campuses, I suggest full body cavity searches each time a student enters a classroom.
        Michael Kelly
  • RE: Should universities allow student devices on the network?

    Simple. Block torrents. It's a pretty simple thing to do.
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • RE: Should universities allow student devices on the network?

      @Cylon Centurion 0005
      See above post. Torrents aren't all bad. instead of the overly paranoid and asinine assumption that all torrents are bad, try blocking trackers that primarily host illegal torrents.
      Liath.WW
      • RE: Should universities allow student devices on the network?

        @Liath.WW I agree. I find downloading Ubuntu or other Linux distro's to be far quicker to download through torrents than direct HTTP, oddly enough.
        zwhittaker
      • RE: Should universities allow student devices on the network?

        @Liath.WW

        True, but on a Uni network, I really don't think torrents should be allowed at all. HOWEVER, I know at least at the school I'm looking at getting into, "Their Network" is also available in some on campus apartments and the Freshie's dorms, which makes blocking certain packets all the more difficult. But like I said, I really don't think torrents have a place at all on a Uni network.

        Even on my home network, they drag down bandwidth like crazy.
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
  • RE: Should universities allow student devices on the network?

    I agree students are paying the college so it's a little different than the workplace, but that's even more reason some controls need to be in place. The primary purpose of providing Internet to students is in support of their education. College IT departments have a responsibility to make sure it's available for that purpose. Serious students shouldn't be impaired in their ability to do their coursework because others are tying up resources with torrents, games, porn, etc.

    I speak from the experience of working in higher ed. There's a big difference between the kid "fighting back" against the record labels and movie studios by pirating and the kid pleading for help because research that normally should take 15 minutes takes 2 hours.

    Everyone has a perception that all colleges and universities have more bandwidth than they know what to do with. That may be true for the large public institutions and wealthy private ones, but for every one of those, there are probably 30 smaller colleges with limited resources that struggle to balance freedom with function. Sure, you can throw technology at it (packet shapers, ACS, etc.) but that all has a price. Every $ spent on that means one less $ that can be spent elsewhere.
    TroyMcClure
    • Well Said

      @piousmonk

      I also work in Education IT but at the High School Level. We are only allowed so much bandwidth coming in and to be honest it is only slightly more than what some home cable ISPs give individual homes. When you have 2500+ computers and over 9,000 students that bandwidth goes fast. Now move to the college/university level where in many cases the student and computer population is way higher.
      bobiroc
      • RE: Should universities allow student devices on the network?

        @bobiroc

        A college I used to work for was similar. The one big difference between the two is, college students have much more recreational time on the network. Resident (college) students are there 24/7 and even commuters may have several hours between courses.

        Also, when you block or throttle something at the high school level, they still can access it when they go home at the end of the day via their own ISP. For resident college students, their home ISP and school ISP may be one in the same.
        TroyMcClure
      • RE: Should universities allow student devices on the network?

        @piosmonk

        I can sympathize with being on "personal" time and yes the College or University should restrict within reason. After all it is still a public network. You may pay to dorm there but essentially you are paying like an extended stay hotel. If you want true personal time you get yourself an apartment and pay for your own personal internet and only have to deal with what restrictions the ISP puts on you.

        Think of it this way. It may be your personal car but it doesn't mean you go out and drive like a total ass or do illegal things or compromise the safety of others just because you are on "personal" time.

        Like your last paragraph says the kids can go home and do what they want on the ISP that they pay for or their parents pay for. When you are on a network in a school (public or private) or in a business that provides internet you do not have much say so as you are not paying that bill so they have to take action to protect their own interests and liability.
        bobiroc
    • RE: Should universities allow student devices on the network?

      @piousmonk / bobiroc

      You should inform your institutions about OpenBSD. They have something called ALTQ, which to put it simply, allows them to prioritize traffic of different types. OpenBSD is free, and while by itself it can be a hassle for a non-geek to set up, there are packaged distributions (flavors) of BSD like m0n0wall ( http://m0n0wall.ch ) and pfSense ( http://www.pfsense.org ) that give the IT people a nice handy interface to use, not unlike what a consumer router has.

      The software is free, and runs on minimal hardware. And being an avid pfSense user, I can attest that is is both powerful and easy to use.
      Liath.WW
      • RE: Should universities allow student devices on the network?

        @Liath.WW

        Thanks, I've since moved on from higher ed to an industry with a whole different set of nuances and issues.
        TroyMcClure
  • Set up different networks

    Reserve the "official" main network for university-owned machines only, and set up a "guest/external" network for private devices. Of course, bandwith on the 2nd network should be *much* lower. The only thing people should be able to do is browse the web at an acceptable speed. For that, a speed of 1 Mbit/s is plenty.
    Daniel Breslauer
    • RE: Should universities allow student devices on the network?

      @Daniel Breslauer this is exactly what many of the school jurisdictions are doing in the Province where I work. We are also working on a guest WiFi network in my government department specifically for employee owned devices. Users will get internet access and use our cloud services to access mail and so on.
      CowLauncher
    • RE: Should universities allow student devices on the network?

      @Daniel Breslauer

      That is what we do essentially. We have several SSID's and two guest networks. Use a similar system like many hotels do where we can set up a temporary access account for outside people and another guest for personal devices that is heavily restricted. Mainly so they can get intranet and access to email on the WiFi and a handful of select external pages. This network also is restricted from browsing servers and other domain computers on the other networks for security.

      Personal devices are becoming more popular and I wish my School District would invest in a Network Access control device to check for security risks like Updated Patching, Proper Antivirus software, secure local folder/file shares, and questionable software like P2P clients. We have had a few that have risked our network with such things.
      bobiroc
    • RE: Should universities allow student devices on the network?

      @Daniel Breslauer

      Only providing the ability to browse the web likely won't cut it. Many schools are requiring students to buy laptops for certain courses. Some of these courses require uses beyond just the web. CIS/MIS may require software downloads, Graphic Design may require downloading large stock video clips and images, many book publishers are providing textbooks in ebook format, some classes may require video conferencing with co-hort sites, etc. All are higher bandwidth than what normal websurfing requires.
      TroyMcClure
  • RE: Should universities allow student devices on the network?

    My company has only one main network, which is wired. The wireless network is entirely separate, but VPN client software is available for anyone who wants it and is installed by default on work systems. That way all traffic to and from the corporate network can be run through anti-virus regardless of what individuals have installed. Most of the vital services already had browser-based access prior to the WiFi installation so we could access them from home.
    aep528