Prince George's County Schools Achieves Safer Computing Environment With Absolute® Software
Background: Prince George's County Schools (PGCS) is the 18th largest school system in the US with over 134000 students and 16000 fulltime employees including 10000 teachers. With a laptop provided to each teacher and a 5:1 student to computer ratio the school systems oversees 40000+ computers spread across 209 schools.
Challenges: With such a large dispersed computer population, computer management and security proved challenging for PGCS's IT team. The school's traditional asset reporting method - which was maintained by hand - exacerbated these difficulties.
Paperwork was required to document computer movement, allocation, and hardware and software requirements. With a busy staff, however, such documentation was not always possible and records were therefore often inaccurate. As such, IT was without a fundamental component of computer security - a precise picture of who is using school computers, where they were located, and what was being installed on them. As a result, the school system faced two main security challenges:
Firstly, dozens of computers would go missing each year, falling victim to loss and theft. Limited means were available to identify and locate missing devices. Inconsistent paper trails made it difficult to distinguish between computers that had been simply misplaced and those that had been stolen and required further recourse. Thus, a number of valuable machines remained unaccounted for - including 58 computers in 2008 alone.
Protecting school computers from dangerous and unauthorized software was a second security challenge that confronted IT, as existing reporting methods failed to consistently determine which machines required patch updates - such as anti-virus software. Also, aside from the time consuming task of hand-checking machines, IT had limited means to identify unauthorized downloads. A number of computers therefore succumbed to unnecessary malfunctions; a side affect of malware and unwanted applications.
Resulting in a number of MIA computers and out-of-commission machines, the above security concerns challenged effective allocation, and, with replacement costs high, strained an already limited budget. Moreover, missing machines a concerning theft rate and a high number of dangerous applications undermined one of the school's key objective.
Best Deployment Scenario - Security Solution for Education
Solution provided by Absolute Software Corporation: To enhance the management and security of its 40000 unit computer fleet, PGCS turned to Computrace® - an IT asset management, data protection and computer theft recovery solution by Absolute Software®. Ending the school system’s reliance on inconsistent paperwork, Computrace automates the auditing process by providing detailed asset reports for every computer with an internet connection - on or off the network.
Through a single, online interface, IT can obtain at-a-glance asset reports for every computer in its fleet, detailing username physical location installed hardware and software license compliance unauthorized applications and device readiness. The school system has 100% visibility into its computer population and can maintain an accurate picture of where machines are located, who is using them and what's installed on them.
Better protecting school computers from dangerous applications, Computrace asset reports maintain a detailed account of installed licenses and include information on expirations and required updates. IT can therefore proactively install patches to avoid future complications. Additionally Computrace alerts IT to unauthorized installations and downloads (such as file sharing applications), so staff can manage individual users operating outside of school policy.
Computrace also allows PGCS to reduce loss and better account for missing machines. By monitoring changes in asset reports, PGCS is able to more easily locate lost computers, quickly detect theft and guide appropriate action. The product's GPS and WiFi tracking capabilities, which pinpoint a machine's location on a digital map, accurately locate missing machines which have unknowingly drifted within the organization. IT can also identify those computers which have moved to unauthorized areas and require further investigation. Suspicious changes in asset information - such as an unfamiliar location, username, or configuration change - often signal unauthorized use. If these changes cannot be accounted for, then theft is likely, and IT knows to take additional recourse.
This recourse comes in the form of the Absolute Theft Recovery Team, which provides managed theft recovery services. PGCS simply reports a theft to Absolute, and the Recovery Team handles the rest.
Once computer is flagged as stolen, the Computrace Agent sends a silent signal over the internet to the Absolute Monitoring Center, providing critical location information. The Absolute Theft Recovery Team mines this information, and provides police with the details necessary to recover the stolen machine. This evidence also often leads to the capture of hundreds of computer thieves – making schools a safer place.
Summary: Since installing Computrace, PGPS has been able to reduce loss, minimize the impact of theft and better protect its machines from dangerous and unauthorized software applications. Chantelle Folkes, PGPS's IT Engineer, explains how Computrace has helped to combat missing machines.
“There's no more relying on paperwork to figure out where machines are - with Computrace, we always know the answer to the question, "where is that computer?". We can log in online and see exactly where it is. This allows IT to easily identify and locate any machine at any given time.”
“Thefts and losses are down without a doubt,” she continues. “ As a starting point, Absolute makes it possible for us to tell right away if a computer has changed hands.” IT is therefore able to verify the user, proactively track machine movement and quickly respond to suspicious circumstance.
Using Computrace asset tracking capabilities and theft recovery services, Folkes estimates that PGCS has been able to reduce yearly computer loss by close to 95%. Further demonstrating successful implementation of the product, of the aforesaid 58 computers that went missing in 2008, Computrace was used to locate and retrieve 55 of them.
Beyond contributing to the overall security environment, this retrieval also accounted for over $93,000 in saved replacement costs. Computrace has also allowed IT to better manage software installations and avoid dangerous applications.
"We're now in complete compliance with software licensing and we're better protected in terms of virus protection," Folkes explains. “Specifically, we can see who has or hasn't updated their Symantec files. Before we would be waiting blindly until a machine came in all messed up; today a technician can go out find the machine and install the necessary updates. It's much more proactive and safer for our machines and our network.”
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