Case Study: Nipissing University Ensures Wireless and Smart Device Connectivity and Security for Students and Faculty with NETSCOUT's AirMagnet Enterprise
At a Glance:
North Bay, Ontario, Canada
Nipissing University's wireless network spans three campus locations and supports more than 4,500 students and more than 300 faculty and staff. It gives end-users Wi-Fi access to critical applications such as email, Internet and online curriculum materials in the classrooms and residence halls. As wireless expectations have grown and the network has been flooded with new smart devices and other wireless technology, the university's IT department has struggled to keep pace. The team constantly faces challenges around unpredictable access point traffic, rogue devices, interference, competing channel usage, the threat of malicious attacks, and even PCI compliance.
NETSCOUT's AirMagnet Enterprise
Nipissing University selected NETSCOUT'S AirMagnet Enterprise to help manage and optimize wireless network performance and proactively protect against possible security vulnerabilities. The system allows the IT department to monitor performance in real-time to identify possible bottlenecks, ensure smart device connectivity, easily troubleshoot interference issues (including channel usage from other Wi-Fi networks), meet PCI compliance guidelines, quickly track rogue devices, and protect the network against possible attacks or misuse in the future.
"Wireless connectivity is a critical service we offer to all students and staff on campus. But, ensuring the quality of this service can be challenging especially with the increase in smart devices and bandwidth usage. Not only are there performance expectations that need to be met, but we also need to proactively ensure we're meeting certain compliance standards and protecting our users.
AirMagnet Enterprise gives us the insight we need and the ability to monitor 24x7 so we can deliver a network that matches the level of excellence offered by our university."
- Greg Seamen, manager of infrastructure support, Nipissing University
Nipissing University is located in North Bay, Ontario, Canada and serves more than 4,500 students across three primary campuses in North Bay, Muskoka and Brantford. Established in 1967, the university received its independent charter in 1992 and is a primary undergraduate university with a reputation for excellence in teacher education, arts, sciences and other professional programs. Programs are based on personal teaching practices, innovative approaches to learning, and a growing research culture.
Nipissing University's wireless network supports more than 4,500 students and more than 300 faculty and staff. The network spans three campus locations, has 530 access points (APs), and thousands of networked devices. End-users leverage Wi-Fi to access critical applications such as email, Internet and online study materials. The university is committed to excellence not only in the curriculum it offers, but the facilities and services it delivers to students and staff. Wireless access is considered a critical part of the university experience.
"As our university grows, so do the expectations around wireless access. More and more students are using smart devices and technology on campus both in residence halls and classrooms," said Greg Seamen, manager of infrastructure support at Nipissing University. "This increased usage, and the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) phenomenon, creates many challenges for the IT department and calls for increased visibility into network performance and security. To meet the needs of students and faculty, it's important that we understand how the network is being used, what interference or access point overload issues we may have, and proactively work to eliminate rogue devices and stop malicious activity."
In addition, the campus is shared with a community college that also has its own Wi-Fi network. This can create channel usage issues, so the university must be able to monitor and see other network access points for channel planning and network health.
"Campus wireless networks are often complex ecosystems of access. Whether in classrooms, residence halls or administrative offices, connectivity and bandwidth is key to preserving university productivity, and even supporting new iPad pilot programs, networked cash machines, general student living and more," said Seamen. "However, ensuring performance and security is not simple, especially when faced with unpredictable access point traffic, strict PCI compliance guidelines, and the constant threat of rogue devices, interference and malicious attacks."
"Complicating matters, the university has limited wireless bandwidth, and priority for availability is reserved for legitimate research and education purposes. Therefore, the university needs to have complete visibility into traffic loads, bandwidth and channel usage, spectrum interference and more, so it can meet both educational and lifestyle requirements for wireless."
"The university never sleeps. Students and faculty work – and play – at all hours of the day. In addition, users are constantly bringing the latest and greatest smart devices onto campus, pushing the limits of BYOD. Having insight 24x7 into how the network is performing, what devices are sucking up bandwidth, or if a security vulnerability exists, can mean the difference between network harmony or chaos," said Seamen.
Today's student and faculty population at Nipissing University expect wireless to "just work." But, without a centralized system that provides wireless visibility into performance and security, the IT team is challenged to keep the network healthy and productive.
To gain visibility into the network and ensure performance and security of the wireless infrastructure, Nipissing University selected AirMagnet Enterprise, a dedicated wireless intrusion detection and prevention system (WIPS/WIDS). It provides dedicated 24x7 security and performance monitoring, and remote troubleshooting and intelligent spectrum analysis capability, so Nipissing University's IT department can centralize the monitoring and management of its wireless networks.
AirMagnet Enterprise proactively protects the university's Wi-Fi networks and users from all types of threats, and ensures maximum network performance and uptime, arming staff with tools to solve problems quickly. It provides full-time automated analysis of all Wi-Fi traffic, channels, devices, their connection state as well as optional spectrum analysis of non-Wi-Fi devices and sources of interference. This full-time view allows IT staff get to the root cause of any problem, instead of just seeing the symptoms, while ensuring full visibility and control over the wireless boundary between their network assets, the community college's network, and the outside world.
Furthermore, AirMagnet Enterprise's AirWISE engine constantly analyzes all wireless devices and traffic using a combination of frame inspection, stateful pattern analysis, statistical modeling, radio frequency (RF) analysis and anomaly detection, enabling detection of hundreds of specific threats, attacks and vulnerabilities such as rogue devices, spoofed devices, DoS attacks, man-in-the-middle attacks, evil twins, as well as the most recent hacking tools and techniques such as MDK3, Karmetasploit and 802.11n DoS attacks.
"Wireless connectivity is a critical service we offer to all students and staff on campus. But, ensuring the quality of this service can be challenging especially with the increase in smart devices and bandwidth usage. Not only are there performance expectations that need to be met, but we also need to proactively ensure we're meeting certain compliance standards and protecting our users. AirMagnet Enterprise gives us the insight we need and the ability to monitor 24x7 so we can deliver a network that matches the level of excellence offered by our university," said Seamen.
"Every student or staff member seems to have a smart device these days. As a matter of fact, we're running pilot programs at the university that leverage iPads in the classroom. These devices allow users to use rich applications that consume lots of bandwidth. Without proper planning and management of the infrastructure, the university could not support these programs or smart devices," said Seamen.
Prior to deploying AirMagnet Enterprise, IT staff took a reactive approach to wireless network performance and troubleshooting, often using ad hoc tools to solve problems. Students would flood certain APs during class times, or stream heavy video in the residence halls at night. The team struggled to ensure consistent connectivity and throughput for end-users. This resulted in a high level of performance complaints and left Seamen and his staff with a lack of visibility into how to strategically remediate or upgrade the network.
With AirMagnet Enterprise, the IT staff gets complete visibility with integrated spectrum analysis and 802.11 a/b/g/n analysis. The system proactively detects problems, and gives engineers topical remediation advice and active remote tools to troubleshoot the issues. Furthermore, with an Automated Health Check function, Seamen and his team can quickly and accurately detect and pinpoint the cause of problems that may be impacting users. This reduces the time and cost associated with solving complex wireless problems.
In addition, with students bringing the latest smart devices onto the network at staggering rates, the network is constantly in a state of flux. Having the ability to see these devices and how they interact with the network is vital to managing performance and security.
With AirMagnet Enterprise, Seamen and his staff get proactive alerts when performance issues arise. This gives them the information needed to either remotely troubleshoot or head around campus to fix a problem. It also allows them to see all active APs and rogue devices on the network. Since the university shares its campus with a community college that has its own WLAN, managing channel usage is key to mitigating overload. And, with students using smart devices as hot spots or unauthorized wireless devices (such as a wireless printer), being able to proactively identify these devices and quickly locate them is vital to keeping the network functioning optimally.
"When it comes to connectivity and bandwidth consumption, research and education use get priority over streaming video or music. Therefore, we're always challenged to make sure the wireless network meets the educational requirements first. With AirMagnet Enterprise, we can look at usage and easily identify what's hogging the bandwidth. This gives us the performance information we need to augment the network, or reprioritize access," said Seamen.
In addition, having a WIPS/WIDS solution that is vendor agnostic was also a necessity for Nipissing University. "Our network uses some of the latest AP technology, however as we move forward, we want to ensure the solution can support new APs regardless of manufacture. This gives us the ultimate flexibility so we can save time and money when we make future upgrades or additions to the wireless network," said Seamen.
"AirMagnet Enterprise has become a vital system for our university. It allows us to manage performance and meet the new challenges associated with smart devices and security. There's no more guessing when it comes to the wireless network. We can now proactively plan, troubleshoot and secure our wireless. Connectivity is now a reliable and valuable service we can confidently deliver to students and staff," said Seamen.