Crime stoppers

As computers come into classrooms, thieves have followed. Laurence Cohen looks at how schools can protect their ICT in the first of a special three-part series

The introduction of ICT into British classrooms has not escaped the attention of criminals. In a Greater Manchester borough last year, one in five schools fell victim to computer theft over a six-month period. It's a problem that hasn't escaped the attention of the Department for Education and Skills and in January it gave education authorities pound;10 million to improve security in schools.

The money is badly needed. In Northern Ireland, 22,000 Viglen PCs are being supplied to 1,000 primary schools as part of the Classroom 2000 (C2K) project. However, many of the schools will rely on existing building security to prevent computer theft. Jack Ringland, director at C2K, says:

"The vast majority of the schools are already protected by intruder alarms."

However, PC Irene Hegg, crime reduction adviser for Greater Manchester Police, feels intruder alarms are not enough to deter thieves. She has helped 13 primary schools in the Beswick, Clayton and Openshaw areas of Manchester to reduce break-ins and says: "Even if alarms trigger a quick police response, thieves have still got three to four minutes to pick up some computers and get away. Schools need to deter burglars by setting them lots of hoops to jump through."

PC Hegg was given pound;60,000 New Deal money to protect the schools' ICT equipment after the area was made an Education Action Zone. "The funding was not enough for us to physically secure school buildings so we had to look at other ways," she says.

The schools' desktop PCs have been bolted to the floor using Top Tec metal computer safes from Dalen. As a further deterrent, ICT equipment is protected with security marking. As well as stencilling names and addresses on to hardware, schools painted equipment with Smartwater, a chemical DNA solution only visible under UV light which can be detected on criminals months after they have stolen property. One school was burgled nine times in just seven weeks, but has not suffered a single burglary since the new security measures were introduced.

In Wales, Newport County Borough Council has deterred computer theft by using CCTV and the Internet to monitor local schools from the council's civic centre. Since December 2000, the council has used Farsight UK's E-surveillance system to monitor Evewell Primary School, which had been targeted by vandals and thieves, using web CCTV cameras installed at the school. "If we observe criminal activities we can call the police, who view the alert as a verified alarm and are therefore more tightly bound to respond," says Phil Cox, principal consultant at Newport County Borough Council.

Remote CCTV surveillance has proved so successful, the Home Office has awarded Newport County Borough Council pound;500,000 to remotely monitor a further 20 schools.

Securing laptop computers is another challenge. The International Data Corporation estimates that one in 14 laptops is stolen. Sawtry Community College in Cambridgeshire, which has used laptops since 1998, has had few machines stolen. Computrace, a program which tracks stolen PCs, is installed on college laptops. If a machine is stolen and later connected to the Internet, Computrace automatically sends details of the serial number and IP address being used to the software's supplier, Eurotechnix.

Alan Stevens, associate principal at Sawtry Community College, says this has helped recover stolen computers. "When the laptop was connected to the Net, police were able to get the address, go to the house where the laptop was being used and recover it," he says. Computrace has also reduced the college's insurance premiums.

Sawtry Community College opted for asset-tagging software as it "did not want to damage laptops through security marking", says Stevens, who adds that laptop lock devices were abandoned because "they made the laptops too heavy to carry".

Another school using Computrace is Nine Stiles School in Birmingham for students aged 11-19. Pupils and teachers use smart swipecards to enter school buildings and electronic keys to access rooms housing ICT equipment. Cathy Holland, assistant headteacher at Nine Stiles, says the swipecards provide benefits besides strong security. "The students have money stored on the cards and can use them to pay for lunch and photocopying. The students love the responsibility that comes with a card," she says.

The school's security measures, which also include CCTV, has also enabled it to cut insurance premiums - further proof that taking measures to protect PCs can save money in the long run.

Finance available

* DFES spending pound;10 million from Capital Modernisation Fund on school security.

* Home Office CCTV money.

* New Deal Regeneration and ScottishWelsh Assembly funds.

Key actions

* Use a combination of computer-specific security measures (PC cages, security marking) and general building security (intruder alarms, CCTV, access control) to protect your equipment.

* Consider using asset-tracking software to protect laptops.

* Initiate or get involved in borough-wide security schemes.

* Get your local police crime reduction adviser to give you a free evaluation of what is needed to protect ICT equipment.

* Ask school ICT supplierswhat security measures they can provide.

* See if security measures can provide other benefits to school.

* Talk to insurance companies to establish how better security can reduce premiums.

* Consider alternative security funding, such as New Deal Regeneration and Home Office CCTV money, if DFES funding is not available.

* Contact security suppliers to see if they will let you trial their productsservices for free - they often will to gain publicity.

Monitoring costs

* Farsight E-surveillance: pound;20,000 initial cost of installing CCTV and setting up internet link; around pound;4,000 a year to maintain systems and monitor schools.

* Eurotechnix Computrace: Software provided free; pound;15 a year monitoring costs (school discounts available).

DFES school security website: www.dfes.gov.ukschoolsecurity Home Office crime reduction website: www.crimereduction.gov.uk

Dalen: 0121 783 3838

www.top-tec.co.uk

Eurotechnix: 01635 247100

www.eurotechnix.co.uk

Farsight: 01733 317601

www.farsight.co.uk

Smartwater: 01952 222706

www.smartwater.com

Viglen: 020 8758 7027 (schools)

www.viglen.co.uk

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