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Missouri College solves IT network security dilemma with SaaS

IT networks at today’s colleges and universities are more distributed than ever. Academic networks that spread out allow students and teachers to communicate and interact in new and exciting ways. But at the same time, the networks also pose a challenge to network administrators. Because a highly distributed network allows multiple points of access, it may make academic settings more vulnerable to Botnets, Trojans and other security threats. Because of the increasing amount of threats, vigilant network security is a must.

Located in Columbia, Mo., and founded in 1851, Columbia College is a private, non-profit institution. The college serves almost 25,000 students annually with its campus and graduate studies. More than 1,100 faculty and staff help run operations and educate students.

With 32 extended campuses around the world, including one for military personnel in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Columbia College maintains two highly distributed networks—one for faculty and staff and the other for students. Columbia College network security analyst Jason Youngquist is responsible for the college’s IT security. From Youngquist’s perspective, protecting highly distributed networks is technically challenging enough, not to mention students are not always the most security conscious Internet users. This unique combination makes for a challenging environment.

Working With Challenges
As the sole security professional for Columbia, Youngquist monitors an information security infrastructure that originally included firewalls and an anomaly-based intrusion behavior system for perimeter security, as well as an incumbent vulnerability assessment solution. Youngquist understands many of today’s sophisticated threats can easily bypass both perimeter and desktop defenses to freely propagate throughout internal networks, wreaking havoc on network uptime and possibly compromising critical applications and sensitive data.

When it came time to renew a vulnerability assessment solution, Youngquist discovered the incumbent vendor was no longer the only choice for on-demand vulnerability assessment. Alert Logic matched the incumbent’s vulnerability management capabilities and offered two capabilities the incumbent did not—on-demand network intrusion protection and remote 24/7 network threat monitoring by security experts. With the solution, Youngquist was able to add two layers of additional network security.

Youngquist is a firm believer in an on-demand model that allows the college to pay a monthly subscription fee for the college’s threat and vulnerability protection. The unique Software-as-a-Service architecture means most of the components of the solution are actually hosted in a centralized data center, not locally on Youngquist’s network. Fewer moving parts on the college’s network meant less time spent deploying, configuring and managing a network security solution.

“I initially did an analysis to see if a Software-as-a-Service model would be beneficial for us,” Youngquist said. “By the time we would buy all the software and hardware for threat and vulnerability scanning, we would have had to invest quite a bit more in upfront costs. Besides, I don’t have the time or the staff to manage and maintain an in-house solution.

“In addition to being less expensive and less labor-intensive, the model also is more flexible. You’re not locked into one solution forever. If you find a better deal, you can take advantage of it.”

Looking Outside
That’s what Youngquist did when he switched to Alert Logic Network Protection On Demand.

“The Alert Logic solution matched the competitive product and provides a lot more value for the money with additional layers of protection from today’s sophisticated threats,” Youngquist said. “I can kick off a vulnerability scan on Monday, look at the results the next day and sit down with the system administrators and discuss any potential vulnerabilities and fixes.”

One big advantage is the minimal amount of management the system requires. The on-demand delivery model means significantly less time spent performing “care and feeding” than with the college’s previous security solution.

“I know the system is watching the network from the inside and will notify me if anything looks suspicious,” Youngquist said.

Even with limited staff resources, Youngquist can identify and remove network vulnerabilities, detect and contain malicious network traffic and comply with applicable policies and regulations for all campuses.

Paying Off
As Youngquist had expected, the on-demand solution deployed rapidly and has required little maintenance or investment in additional network infrastructure. The college pays a monthly fee and every aspect of the solution is included.

Youngquist has established a weekly routine for running vulnerability scans and checking machines for fixes and patches, saving both time and effort. He appreciates the system is complementing both perimeter and server defenses, providing the college with a multi-layered, defense-in-depth security strategy on the inside of its networks.

“Finally,we get the subscription model that saves us money over buying an in-house solution and the flexibility to change if we ever want to,” Youngquist said. “I would recommend it to my colleagues as an ideal approach for higher education network security.”

About the Author

Chris Smith is the vice president of marketing for Alert Logic.

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