Network Security

Case Study: Lifeline for the help desk


Enabling students to reset their own passwords relieved IT staff – and network congestion – at a North Carolina college. Greg Masters reports.

Like most educational institutions, Cleveland Community College (CCC) has embraced technology to enhance learning in the classroom, register students and to track and provide grades and transcripts. However, while integrating technology to improve efficiency and engagement, the college – working from a variety of legacy installations – ended up with a number of different systems that required separate login credentials. During registration periods, the help desk would get several hundred student requests to reset passwords. And, though a team of five IT staff ensures that all technology is operational and maintained, as well as provides assistance with special projects on campus, the staff dedicated to the help desk was only available Monday through Thursday until 9 p.m. and Friday until 2 p.m., so a huge backlog of frustrated users could build up over the weekend.

“It was important for us to address the problem, not only for customer satisfaction and an improved user experience, but to maximize our limited IT resources and reduce help desk calls for resetting student passwords,” says Kyle Harmon, computer network specialist for CCC (left). “We really wanted to eliminate the need for multiple login credentials, but at the same time ensure a high level of security for online access for both staff and students.” 

The public college is situated in Shelby in Cleveland County, N.C., about 44 miles west of Charlotte, and employs more than 500 faculty and staff members offering continuing education to more than 4,000 students. It provides associate degrees, diploma and certificate programs, as well as other vocational and general courses.

CCC uses Office 365 for student email and Microsoft SharePoint as a portal where students can register for classes and view grades and transcripts. “We wanted to provide users with one identity for accessing all of the college's systems,” says Harmon. 

The task of identifying a solution that would meet the technology needs of the 50-year-old college fell to Harmon and his colleague at CCC, Network Specialist Chad Linder. They set about looking for an affordable system that was quick and easy to deploy, would enable self-service password reset and thus significantly reduce help desk calls to the IT team. 

After reviewing a number of possibilities they went with a tool from SecureAuth as their all-in-one solution. “We felt SecureAuth delivered the best self-services options for our students and employees,” says Harmon. “We also required a custom user-registration process that would not have been possible without the use of SecureAuth.” 

SecureAuth IdP is not so much a tool, but rather provides to an enterprise the tools to become its own identity provider (IdP), says Craig Lund, CEO at Irvine, Calif.-based SecureAuth. “The solution can integrate with a company's current infrastructure – including enterprise data stores, authentication protocols and access groups – accept any identity, authenticate internal and mobile users, and assert them into any network, web, cloud or mobile resource.”

He adds that an easy-to-use identity access management console is included, which enables admins to configure two-factor authentication and single sign-on preferences for individual users, groups, applications and devices.

The deployment at CCC went smoothly. “We opted to deploy the new identity access management system in phases beginning with faculty and staff, then students,” CCC's Harmon says. “The SecureAuth developers worked closely with us to customize the user interface and authentication policies specific to our user needs. The design was completed in less than two weeks.”

The IT team at CCC is pleased with the implementation. “In less than three months, SecureAuth and our IT team here at CCC had deployed the new system for each stage of the phased rollout,” Harmon says.

And, CCC's IT team saw immediate benefits with the single sign-on and usability features, as users can easily register themselves and no longer have to worry about remembering credentials for so many different systems, Harmon says. 

The results have been positive. CCC has significantly reduced call requests to its help desk while offering users a better experience for accessing the college's different portals, Harmon says. 

As far as the technology assisting with compliance requirements, Harmon says that was not a requirement when the system was first installed. However, since the original implementation, the college has configured its SecureAuth servers to present web pages that are in compliance with PCI standards. 

The entire college has benefited from the new system, he adds. The help desk has seen a reduction in calls while staff, faculty members and CCC's thousands of students now have a better user experience with just one set of login credentials, he says.

And, the solution is ideal for those on the go. “Due to the rise of the BYOD business environments, SecureAuth's mobile solution is more fitting than others on the market,” says Lund. “Enterprises are not required to own the devices, but can still exercise control over the access granted on the mobile devices. Two-factor user workflows can be designed based on risk factors, so external users can be required to authenticate stronger or more often, and single sign-on can be configured to enable access to all applications or only certain ones.”

SecureAuth IdP is managed from a single “solid state” solution, either cloud or enterprise-based, Lund says. Because a single server is conducting all of the authentication workflow, SSO and IdM, all upgrades occur at a single point. The tool typically has an upgrade every quarter with a major release once a year, and the server is upgraded directly from the SecureAuth admin console, he adds.

Security is critical in today's age of identity theft, says Lund. “SecureAuth's solution allows enterprises to enjoy a true hybrid experience where the user credentials are vaulted at the enterprise, but the resources are anywhere, including cloud and mobile. These are not easy requirements to meet with one solution, and we are happy to have helped Cleveland Community College succeed in this challenge by deploying SecureAuth IdP.”

The goal for CCC was to implement the system in phases and that has now been completed, says Harmon.

Security has, and always will be, a top priority for the college, so it is of critical importance that all information is secure and free from the threat of hackers and viruses, Harmon says. “With more staff and students now using tablets and smartphones to access our applications, it is crucial that we have a security system that allows multiple users access from desktop and mobile devices. We believe deploying SecureAuth has met our requirements for this.”

For reprints of this case study, contact Elton Wong at [email protected] or 646-638-6101. 

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