Mac Lab Report

How to Limit Network Access for OS X Users

- 2005.06.16

I've recently acquired several Tiger-equipped Mac minis, and the first problem I had with deployment was finding a way to keep them from browsing, accessing, or damaging the school's network. At the same time, I use a server in my classroom to distribute data files for analysis, collect student work, and save copies of electronic documents.

For my Mac OS 9 client computers, I use FoolProof, but it is not available for OS X (if it has been made compatible, I can't find any indication of it on the product description page; no system requirements are given).

The problem with OS X account settings is that there is no way to disable the "Go" menu. This definitely should be a setting for network managers responsible for setting up client computers.

Thanks to the persistent work of a reader, Teemu Masalin, we now have a simple solution to this problem. Assuming your clients are set up with restricted access, all you have to do is go into the Utilities folder, open NetInfo manager, and turn everything off in the Directory Access window. What you are turning off is the kinds of networks that will show up in your Go window when you click "Browse" to locate a network.

NetInfo Manager will require an admin password, so even if students know this trick (or read this article) they won't be able to activate it again by the same method.

Close it, and you're all set.

How do my students get access to their server folders? Simple. I just provide aliases of the servers (created from mounted servers on my teaching computer when I had logged into each folder manually, using my undisabled "Go" function). A copy of all the network folder aliases now sits on the desktop of each mini. Double-click on the alias, and the user goes directly to the password, does not pass "Go", and does not collect any other servers on the network.

I've tested this arrangement, and it seems to work reliably. I asked some students to attempt to get on the network as a test, and they were unable to do so (keep in mind that these were just average computer-literate kids, not programmers or kids from the Cisco class).

Now, that's not to say there aren't other applications that will allow you to access the network - the Terminal comes to mind, for example, but that would require an expert user to use it properly. All I want to do is make it inconvenient enough that it would discourage everyday students from trying.

Thanks, Teemu. The arrangement has been working great, and I'll do it for all future installs of OS X for student users.

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is a longtime Mac user. He was using digital sensors on Apple II computers in the 1980's and has networked computers in his classroom since before the internet existed. In 2006 he was selected at the California Computer Using Educator's teacher of the year. His students have used NASA space probes and regularly participate in piloting new materials for NASA. He is the author of two books and numerous articles and scientific papers. He currently teaches astronomy and physics in California, where he lives with his twin sons, Jony and Ben.< And there's still a Mac G3 in his classroom which finds occasional use.

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