IT Security in schools

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Have been considering IT security within schools recently and in particular password security.   Schools have a number of different systems each requiring users to have login credentials in order to access them.    This includes the schools Management Information System (MIS), computer login or Active Directory credentials, Parents evening booking systems and a multitude of other possible systems.

The ideal setup has always been to have an integrated environment  meaning that login credentials were synchronized across different services.   This would mean that users only have a single password which they need to remember, which would therefore allow for users to be encouraged to use a more complex and secure password.   A systems Admin could even set policy to require a certain level of password complexity.      I am no longer as convinced as to the merits of this approach.

As we look to make use of more systems within schools we engage more companies as the providers of the services we need.    Each new service increases our digital footprint in terms of the risk to which we are exposed.   We may have a reasonably high level of confidence as to Microsoft or Googles security, however can we say we have the same level of confidence with regards the provider of our SMS system, room booking system and school app?      Just consider the number of services impacted upon by Heartbleed.    If we have lesser confidence in the security of these service providers,  we are accepting they are of a higher risk yet we are entrusting them with the synchronized user credentials for all services.    Should these services become compromised then Microsofts, Googles and all other services, no matter how good their security is, are also compromised as the hackers have the appropriate login credentials.    An integrated environment is therefore not as secure as we believe.

I do not have an answer for the above issue however the approach I am currently examining is the use of password managers such as LastPass and 1Password.   They allow the user to have a single master password however this then manages a whole set of passwords which are different for each service being used.    Should a less secure service become compromised this would not impact on other services.   There is still the risk of the master password becoming compromised however you would hope that the service providers providing password managers are significantly more focused and capable on security than the provider of a schools library or similar systems.  This leaves the users selection of their password and it I think that’s an important point to finish on.

Ultimately the weakest link in the security chain is that of the users themselves.    The above may help in addressing security however the most important issue in IT security is and continues to be educating users to be aware and vigilant plus and to select passwords which are suitably secure.

 

 

 

 

 

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Skype

skype-lrgStarted experimenting during the last couple of weeks with Skype for Business.   On Friday for example I had a meeting with a colleague to discuss some ideas he had.   As we both work on different sites and I knew my colleague was eager to get things moving and have a meeting at the earliest opportunity I suggested a Skype session to allow for discussion.    Midway through the discussion he asked if I had another computer to look at as he was going to send me a link for a web page to look at.    At this point Skype for business came into its own as I suggested he should use the “present” option.

A few minutes later and the Skype call continued, however with me now able to see my colleagues screen via screen sharing while also still able to see and hear him via picture in picture.   My colleague was able to walk me around the site and how he felt this idea of his would work and how it would benefit the school.

With Skype for business it is possible for a number of people to come together in a single meeting, sharing screens and discussing the issues in hand.    As such I can see opportunities for student group work across schools geographically separated.   This might be a nice preparation for the world beyond school where increasingly we are having to work remotely or across borders.    It would also allow for master teaching or lecturing events where a single teacher can deliver to both students in the same room and also students in other schools and locations.   Again this could add an interesting global aspect to lessons.

I see quite a bit of potential in Skype for Business and its use within school so my intention going forward is to have a number of virtual meetings using it.   I am also hoping my colleague and also those he shares meetings with will also go forth and share as well as identifying creative and innovative ways Skype for business to be used within the school.

 

 

First week back

6808262271_47ba7029e1_zThe first week back came and went in a whirlwind of activity.   I had forgotten quite how manic the first week, and I suspect the second, can be.

The main thing is I did manage to make a few steps in the direction I want to be taking this year.    I started parking across the campus meaning every morning and every evening I am getting a little bit of exercise, a little bit of thinking time plus the odd networking opportunity as I walk across the site.     Its only between 8 and 10 minutes of walking in either direction however that’s 16 to 20 minutes more exercise than I used to be getting.   Also looking at my weekly step count over the last month or so shows an increase in a positive direction.

Linked to the above I am also trying to be more visible.   I am very conscious that during my first year in my current post I seldom was seen out and about, something which I am embarrassed or possible even ashamed of.   As such I want to ensure this year that I am more visible and in order to assist in this I sent out my first annual briefing to all staff.    It has to be noted that in the busy period of the first few weeks only around 10% of recipients actually clicked the link to the document however it’s a start.    One reflection I have also realized that the document was never sent to the students so this is something which I think I will need to address at some point during the school year.   In addition, am making an effort to go on walkabouts to be visibly seen around the school.    Currently am focusing these on the start of each day in order to help with the odd lost student however this is something I want to make sure and build on during the course of the year.

The first week was also about resetting priorities for the year and identifying which projects I will prioritize and which will need to take a back seat.      On Saturday I had a good chance to brainstorm one of the current issues which I intend to focus on during the course of the year and in turn this highlighted something else I need to make time for: brainstorming and discussing issues and ideas.    Coming out of the discussion, and it was a pretty informal discussion with lots of ideas and thoughts being thrown around, I felt I had a greater understanding of the issues surrounding the project in hand and in doing so had a better idea as to the best route forward.

So its one week down and………… I am stopping myself there before I count the number of week until half term, Christmas or the end of the year.    Life is too important to wish away so on that note I will focus on week two and on building on the first week back.

 

 

 

It’s the little things that make the difference!

I have been struggling in addressing my personal fitness for a significant part of the year.   Ideas with regarding taking up jogging have came and went.   I just cannot seem to get up in the morning early enough to go out before work and am too tired after work.    I have considered buying a running machine, however I remember my previous attempts when upon purchasing one out in the UAE the most exercise it ever saw was the two blokes who had the unfortunate job of carrying it up the stairs.    I just seem unable to make much in the way of progress.   The want, or mind, is there however the motivation, the heart, isn’t.

groundsThat was until the other morning, when I decided to park my car on the other side of the school campus due to attending an event in the evening at that side of the school and wanting to leave directly from there.   The walk across the school took around 10 minutes and according to my phone accounted for around 850 steps, most of which being uphill.    Then it hit me, here was an easy solution at least to make some progress towards improved fitness;  to park at the other side of school every morning and walk across the campus.    This would amount to regular exercise without have much of a significant impact on my working day.   Yes I would need to get up slightly earlier however it would also give me the opportunity to network with colleagues who I suspect would be around campus in the mornings, as well as allowing me to take in the lovely grounds of the school.    I would be getting exercise, appreciating the surroundings and also improving my overall visibility and presence on site.

So there we have it; a little thing in parking across school, which could make a big difference.    I suppose, if I am being honest, this is easy enough now however the challenge will be whether I can keep it up when the winter weather returns!