Bluecoat system approved for LAPS

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Education > New software designed to protect schools from ID theft

By Tris DeRoma

At a recent meeting, the Los Alamos School Board was reminded once again that Los Alamos is not just another small town in New Mexico.
Unlike other towns, it’s also home to a historically famous, top-secret facility focused on nuclear weapons design and research.
As a result, statistically, there’s more of a chance that Los Alamos employees, as well as members of their own families, can and do become targets of computer hacks and breaches.
At the meeting, district officials asked the board to sign a contract for a new “content filtering system” the district wants to purchase, a system that will hopefully keep students’ school online activities safe, private and secure while they are at school.
According to the district’s Chief Operations Officer, Joanie Ahlers, it was time to make the switch to a more powerful system.
“Just because our name is Los Alamos Public Schools, we do receive a large number of outside attacks, including those from foreign countries. We felt that from a security standpoint and considering who the parents are to some of our students, we felt compelled to choose an appliance that can do a number of advanced things than just be a basic filter,” she said to the board.
After running tests on three prospective systems, the district settled on “Bluecoat,” a filtering system that will cost the district $180,000 for three years’ worth of licenses, service and warranty fulfillment.
The price is incremental. It will initially cost the district $75,000 in the first year to get things up and running.
There was a more advanced product they were considering, but according to Ahlers, the district that used it, Santa Fe Public Schools, did not like it and ended up switching to another product. That had a heavy impact on the decision making process, she said.
In her presentation, Ahlers also noted Bluecoat is a product that the Los Alamos National Laboratory uses, as well.
“So the nice thing is we do have somebody who is actively using the product that we could call upon for support,” she said to the board.
One reason the district is discarding the old system is because Bluecoat gives more options when it comes to individualized control. Users of Bluecoat can also control access by grade levels as well, giving progressively more access to approved sites as a student progresses through the school system.
“Its ability to handle so many complex requests at once is another reason why we decided to go with Bluecoat,” Ahlers said.
The system also features individual override functions, but even if override is activated, their locations are automatically logged wherever they go.
When asked about how difficult it might be to implement the system, Superintendent of Schools Kurt Steinhaus said that their may be some “small tweaks” that have to be made throughout the school year.
“If you approve this, it’s a giant, positive leap forward, but there will be small tweaks we will have to do throughout the year to make sure this is working smoothly for the instructional process,” he said to the board.
Los Alamos School Board Vice President Matt Williams opted for the board to approve the new system. Despite the customized adjustments that will have to be made, it will be worth the $180,000 total price tag.
“It’s a hard thing. Everyone assumes the Internet should work and function and they can go wherever they want, and your average student, even some teachers, don’t understand how difficult it really is to ensure that everybody has fast Internet access and access to everything they need and not access to what they don’t need,” he said.
At the end of the discussion, the board unanimously approved the decision to approve funding for the new software.