UNF IT explain the purpose of ClearPass OnGuard

Julia Croston, Managing Editor

An ongoing battle between the University of North Florida WiFi and students, university Information Technology Services claims that connectivity problems may be due to personal device software because of a failure to meet ClearPass OnGuard requirements.

Spinnaker met with ITS Vice President and Chief Information Officer Brian Verkamp and Chief Information Security Officer Jeff Durfee to discuss the effects that ClearPass and OnGuard can have on student devices. 

ClearPass functions as an authorization service to allow access to the WiFi network. This is coupled with a newer service titled “ClearPass OnGuard” that conducts a health check on devices that want to get onto the WiFi.

Instead of joining the visitor WiFi, Verkamp and Durfee recommend that students join the UNF Wireless using OnGuard. UNF Wireless is faster and allows personal devices more access while on the network.

“Windows 11 and MacOS 12 are not officially supported yet, but may function normally,” according to the IT website.

ClearPass OnGuard does not officially provide support to this newer software but the vendor does claim to be working to fully update the service and frequently adds fixes to meet newer compatibility requirements. 

Computer coding
Courtesy of Mohammad Rahmani via Unsplash.

Apple actively changes the OS software with MacBooks in particular, making it a challenge to keep up with ClearPass requirements. Any updates to computer software require OnGuard to adjust to the new requirements. 

Durfee explained how the situation is similar to an iPhone updating its software and, as a result, certain apps need to update in order to run properly.

“We are continuously evaluating all of these things. All of our software and any service, and we are looking to make improvements to that process,” Verkamp assured.

MacBooks have built-in antivirus software that can slow down the computer if students are downloading additional antivirus software. Both Verkamp and Durfee say that OnGuard, although downloaded to a device, does not add any additional software. Instead, it works as a checklist to make sure the computer trying to connect to UNF’s WiFi network is safe and meets certain standards. 

Verkamp explained it like this:

A computer on the network that is potentially carrying a virus or malware must be checked properly. Without this safeguard, that OnGuard supplies, the virus or malware may be able to hack the entire WiFi network, putting students and the university at risk. 

“The goal is to keep the students, and all of us, safe,” he said. 

An Apple computer.
An Apple computer. Courtesy of Tianyi Ma via Unsplash.

According to Durfee, approximately 20,000 unique users join the university WiFi every day. Computers running old software — such as Windows XP, Windows 7, or older Apple software — could harm the shared network. 

“You think about networks as a swimming pool. If there’s no differentiation between them, everybody’s sharing the same water,” Durfee explained. “You can just imagine what that gets like after a lot of people have been in there for a long time.”

In the past, Durfee and Verkamp claimed that there have been significant issues with viruses and malware entering student devices after joining the network. Recently, IT swapped to OnGuard from another product to better ensure that student devices remain safe. 

The problems students have with OnGuard, according to Durfee, may be compatibility issues with newer Windows 11 or OS 12 software. The issue could also be that the devices were sent to a quarantine network where an update process must be completed before the device can join the full network. 

IT has prioritized functionality in making sure OnGuard continues to be optimized. Durfee knows there have been some issues with students adapting to OnGuard. If ClearPass is no longer functioning, IT will look for a replacement better suited to the needs of the campus. 

If there are issues, Verkamp recommends students call or go to the IT help desk

“There are people there that are absolutely trained to help with this and make sure the students get what they need,” he said.


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