NAC saves University of North Carolina money, keeps illegal file sharing in check

Network access control (NAC) is saving the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill $40,000 per year by keeping students from illegally using peer-to-peer file-sharing applications.

When the school's Enterasys NAC agents discover any of about a dozen such apps like BitTorrent and LimeWire, a popup warns against using them to violate copyright laws by downloading copyrighted music, for instance.

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If the students uninstall the app, they get access to the dorm network. Or they can keep the application installed and use it over the network so long as they digitally sign a statement that they understand that misusing it is illegal and agree not to do so, says Jim Gogan, director of networking at the university.

If they misuse it anyway, they get reported to the dean of students and could face charges in student honor court, he says.

The program is called Hall Pass, and has reduced complaints that the networking staff has to deal with. He wouldn't say how many complaint letters the university used to get from the music industry about illegal file sharing traced back to campus, but dealing with the letters occupied one employee about half time. That has dwindled so much that virtually all that time has been reclaimed, accounting for the $40,000 savings, he says.

Last fall, the NAC agents detected that about 1,000 students had peer-to-peer applications running on devices used the dorm network. Last spring, the school implemented a pop-up that simply warned students that the apps had been detected and that they could be misused. There was no threat of being kicked off the network or disciplinary action. Even so, about 30% of students who were warned removed the applications anyway.

In tightening up the warnings starting this fall, the school didn't want to ban P2P file sharing altogether. "We wanted to give students freedom and accountability for their actions," says Ryan Turner, of the school's Information Technology Services.

This fall, fewer than 50 students have been found with peer-to-peer applications installed and about half of those removed them after being warned about misuse. Turner can't say how many complaint letters the school gets now, but he says it's significantly reduced. "It definitely is worth continuing the program," he says.

The university already had the Enterasys gear installed, and reconfigured it to implement the program. Setting up the technology took less than a week's effort, Turner says.

Once students agree to properly use their peer-to-peer file sharing, they have permission for the rest of the semester. They have to agree again at the start of the next semester.

Read more about wide area network in Network World's Wide Area Network section.

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