3 min

Increasing Automation for Greater Cloud Security

Westminster College supported a major cloud expansion with advanced security solutions.

In early 2020, Westminster College in Fulton, Mo., found itself on a cloud computing trajectory similar to that of many other higher education institutions. The college had a Software as a Service environment that had been in place for years. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, forcing a rapid expansion to a much larger cloud footprint. 

To support online learning platforms, videoconferencing technologies, a new one-to-one device program and other services, the college needed to leverage additional cloud solutions, including Nutanix Clusters. The IT department also wanted to be able to manage its computing infrastructure, both on-premises and in the cloud, from a single console. 

Together, these initiatives represented a big shift, not only for the college’s use of the cloud but for its approach to security. Cloud security is always critical, but the events of the past year have made it even more pressing for higher education. 

With this customer, the cloud security strategy also had to account for a relatively small IT staff without specialized security expertise. That’s one reason the college partnered with CDW: It needed help identifying the best solutions, designing and architecting the environment for optimal outcomes, and teaching IT staffers how to manage the solutions on their own.

Automated Updates Keep Cloud Security Strategies on Track

The upgrades to Westminster College’s IT environment were designed to leverage automation while increasing control and visibility. This included an integrated suite of security tools and new Palo Alto Networks firewalls, all of which position the college to deliver and secure essential services without putting a burden on its IT staff. 

One of the biggest improvements we were able to deliver is the stronger protection afforded by newer firewalls — for instance, layer-7 inspection versus Layer 3 or Layer 4 on older equipment. More advanced firewalls now examine the traffic inside the actual packets and then use that information to make better decisions and effectively thwart malicious traffic. 

Better inspection, in turn, facilitates more granular control over traffic on the college network. With older firewalls, it wasn’t always possible to block the desired types of traffic in the ways that the IT staff wanted to. Now, if the college elects to block traffic from gambling-related URLs, for example, the firewall can be configured to automatically block any new gambling sites that pop up.

Newer firewalls also support more extensive logging and monitoring, generating reports and alerts for suspicious traffic. These allow for more efficient oversight — a key capability as the college seeks to take full advantage of the cloud while keeping data secure.

Ease a Major Cloud Initiative with Expert Partner Support

Any time an organization makes significant changes to its cloud environment, it must assess the security implications. New attack vectors may emerge, such as open ports that the IT team is unaware of. To ensure that cloud initiatives neither compromise existing protections nor introduce new vulnerabilities, organizations should consider engaging an external cloud security expert to assist in planning, assessment and deployment.

At Westminster College, CDW partnered with the IT team for the design, architecture and execution of its cloud security strategy. Together, the new solutions have established a cloud environment that moves the institution to the proactive, rather than reactive, side of the cybersecurity spectrum.