Thursday, September 29, 2011

Internet access to your Moodle site slow? Untangle to the rescue!

So you've tweaked your Moodle site's performance until your eyes are red from too much online reading. Your network has no bottlenecks, at least that's what your network engineers says. Your network's running on a fast broadband line. However, no matter what you do, the line is still running slow and your Moodle site's loading slowly. Your organisation doesn't have or can't afford a good hardware firewall. After a while, your network is falling prey to students' bit-torrenting and unmonitored video streaming. Your network's grinding to a halt. What's next? Well how about using Untangle?

Untangle won't improve the speed of your Moodle site - which is either on your own private server or on a Web Hosting company's server. Untangle will help you to block unnecessary website surfing and unproductive protocols like (IM, Peer-to-Peer or gaming services). So in effect, your Internet access is controlled. So when your users surf to a Moodle site, the experience is smoother and faster. The free-version is not fool proof, meaning that there are ways to circumvent the blocks, but there's always the premium package that comes at a monthly fee.

Untangle is a software appliance that manages every aspect of network control from content security to web caching, remote access to policy enforcement, all from one simple, drag & drop command center.

Figure 1: The Untangle solution - it's free unless you install some of the premium modules

It is fairly easy to setup and for colleges or organisations running on a shoe-string budget, the Untangle software is a life-saver for your broadband line. With it you can filter websites by category or even by URLs, block protocols and view Internet access logs. It's a free Open Source solution that fits with your budget (free!). Here a lost of features, taken from the same Untangle website.

  • Dynamic Web Filter – Filter websites by critical categories for CIPA such as Pornography, Illegal Drugs, Dating, and Hate and Aggression, as well as manage access to web mail, shopping, proxies, and other sites.
    • Control Internet usage based on 53 categories that covers over 100 million URLs.
    • URLs that have not been seen before are processed and classified in real-time, allowing you to stay one step ahead of your students.
    • Block https/ssl sessions by IP, thwarting a popular work around for standard web filtering solutions.
  • Control Instant Messenger and other P2P applications – port hopping applications such as instant messenger and bit torrent can bypass standard firewall rules, consume network traffic, introduce malware, and open a door for child predators. Untangle allows you to control these applications and set reasonable restrictions for your network.
  • Block Viruses, Spyware, Spam, Phish, and Other Malware – Untangle scans all traffic including http and ftp for viruses, worms, spyware, phishing, and other threats to protect your network and the personal information of your students.
  • Monitoring - Untangle Reports lets you see who’s doing what on your network, including reporting by active directory user name. This lets you monitor for violations of your acceptable use policy and identify suspect behavior.
  • Policy Management – Create an unlimited number of web usage policies based on user and/or time of day, including rules appropriate for teacher, staff, and students as well as different age groups.

Figure 2: a virtual rack of software security modules that keep your Broadband line safe and healthy.
Check out the arsenal of tools available.

At Stamford College Malacca, we use Untangle a lot. Our System Administrators love it. Students hate it when we block gaming and Chinese language websites. Staff hate it too, especially when we block Facebook access from 9am to 6pm. But some staff love it because they realise that it keeps our Internet speed within acceptable levels. Before Untangle, getting incoming email was a pain. Now it's much better. After all, we're running a college of only 250 students on a SDSL 1.5Mpbs and an ADSL 2.0Mpbs line and any technology that controls Internet usage is greatly welcomed.

So as a treat, I would like to share with you a simplified (read: incomplete) user screen guide to installing it on your PC or server. The User Guide was prepared by my colleague, Chua Wee Keong. All credit goes to him for this mini-guide and for installing Untangle 8.0 back in 2010 at Stamford College Malacca.

Figure 3: Put in the untangle CD and start the PC.  Choose "Graphical install (normal mode)"

Figure 4: Choose your installation language (English?)

Figure 5: Configure the clock and select the timezone.

Figure 6: To proceed and format the disk, click YES. Well, there goes your harddisk!

Figure 7: Progress bar. Go ahead, grill some chicken while you wait. It could be some time...

Figure 8: After the installation has finished, click the continue button to restart the PC

Figure 9: Select Debian GNU/Linux, Kernel 2.6.25.-2-untangle-686 

Figure 10: Untangle starting up

Figure 11: Select your language (English?)

Figure 12: Type your admin password twice.

Figure 13: Enter the settings.

External Interface                                                                                
Config type = static
Address =
Netmask = 8:
Default gateway =
Primary DNS server =
Secondary DNS server =

Internal Interface
Config Type = static
Address =
Netmask = 16

That's all for now. For more help on installing Untangle on your PC/server, head over here.

Frankie Kam
P.S., screenshots generated from Windows 7 Virtual Machine window.
Thanks Chua, and all the BEST in your BSc. In IT at Open University, and in your NEW CAREER!

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