Doctorow's SchoolBook Computers Created By Australian Govt

In a splendid display of hubris, the New South Wales Department of Education is starting to hand out the first of 240,000 "unhackable" netbook computers to high school students, a project that will continue over the next four years.


(Lenovo netbook computer)

Demonstrating whose side he's on, NSW CIO Stephen Wilson remarks that high schools are "the most hostile environment you can roll computers into". Therefore, the government has added asset-tracking software, GSM/GPS tracking, passive RFID tags, BIOS-embedded filtering and even non-Philips head screws to hinder attempted case infiltration.

The tracking software is also embedded at the BIOS level; it is administered through an enterprise services bus, which also connects the computer to the Remedy suite for asset management, Active Directory for authentication and Aruba's Airwave for wireless network management.

In addition to being equipped with famed software giant Microsoft's impenetrable and unhackable Windows 7, it also uses AppLocker within Win7 to dictate which applications may be installed.

Web access is filtered using SmartFilter plus additonal web filtering at the network layer. Finally, Microsoft's Forefront Antivirus technology is used to complete the netbooks' unbreakable ring of perfect security.

Back in the real world, however, efforts to take these "unhackable" netbook computers and turn them into devices that might be useful for young people getting an education are already underway. Tech sites are accumulating sidenotes, comments and suggestions already.

This entire scenario sounds remarkably similar to the SchoolBook notebook computers that were given to students in Cory Doctorow's excellent 2008 novel Little Brother.

I got back to class and sat down again... I unpacked the school's standard-issue machine and got back into classroom mode. The SchoolBooks were the snitchiest technology of them all, logging every keystroke, watching all the network traffic for suspicious keywords, counting every click, keeping track of every fleeting thought you put out over the net...

Cracking my SchoolBook had been easy. The crack was online within a month of the machine showing up, and there was nothing to it -- just download a DVD image, burn it, stick it in the SchoolBook, and boot it while holding down a bunch of different keys at the same time. The DVD did the rest, installing a whole bunch of hidden programs on the machine, programs that would stay hidden even when the Board of Ed did its daily remote integrity checks of the machines. Every now and again I had to get an update for the software to get around the Board's latest tests, but it was a small price to pay to get a little control over the box.
(Read more about Doctorow's SchoolBooks)

Hey New South Wales school kids! Look for "unhackable" computer hacking tips on sites like Slashdot and Hack a Day. Story via IT News Australia.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 9/28/2009)

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