Hardware Information

An Inexpensive Solution to Securing Public Access Computers

Offering secure public Internet access is not as easy as it may seem. As the IT manager for a mid-sized public library, it's become apparent to me that creating a secure network of library workstations for use by the public is more important than ever before. System administrators have the responsibility of protecting the library's networks and systems, while ensuring quality and speedy service to all patrons. Offering public Internet access requires a dynamic security plan that is constantly under revision, taking into account the technical changes of the times. Traditionally, the software options available for help in this regard come at a significant price, often forcing libraries to spend thousands of dollars securing their computer rooms.

Sold per module or license, many of these software solutions offer a variety of features, but often fall short of actually securing the workstation. Plagued with stability issues, it's not uncommon for many of these security solutions to crash and leave an administrative-level desktop open for public use. After test-driving a seemingly endless amount of pro-active protection software packages, the PC's I administrate were still accumulating spy ware, browser hijacks, and tracking cookies on a daily basis. That is, until I came across the completely free software solution that actually does what others claim to -- tightly secure any and every Windows 2000/XP Pro workstation.

The Public Access Computer Security Tool is a complete software security system designed by, and offered freely through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Designed for any public access computer that runs Windows 2000 or Windows XP Professional, it helps keep workstations secure by restricting public access to the machine, and creating customizable profile environments to meet patron needs, without compromising the ever-important administrative access to the terminal.

So how does the Public Access Computer Security Tool work? By utilizing three separate layers of pro-active security restrictions (system restrictions, profiles, and profile restrictions), patron access is limited to a desktop completely configurable by the Administrator, and locked down at the policy level. This results in a computer environment that performs flawlessly, despite the "heavy use" factor that's become synonymous with the public access computing world.

After installing and configuring the Public Access Computer Security Tool on our library's ten public access Internet machines, the days of spy ware, instant messengers, and search bars are now behind us. I'm confident our public access terminals are now properly secure. Stability is not an issue any more; the operating system itself is reconfigured to disable access to sensitive parts of the machine. There's absolutely no way for patrons to intentionally or accidentally disrupt the functioning of the computer, as they are limited to the software we've given them access to.

Best of all, libraries on the tightest of budgets can use the Public Access Computer Security Tool for every public access terminal in the building, and not owe a single dollar. The software is completely free and requires no license/registrations. As an IT administrator, if you're shopping around for public access solutions, I suggest you check out the Public Access Computer Security Tool. Further information and links to downloading the tool at available at: http://www.pacomputing.org/PACTool/pactoolhome.aspx.

Jim Frank is the Head of Computer Services for the Berwyn Public Library. He can be reached by emailing jiminberwyn@gmail.com. A support forum for the Public Access Security Tool can be found by visiting http://www.securepc.org. (NOTE TO EDITORS: This article may be edited for publication in your newsletter or on your website, but must include the author's name, and the title of the article.)

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