Stony Brook Automates Security With Palo Alto Networks and Internet2

If you work in higher education IT, you know that Internet2 provides high-speed networks, cloud solutions, research support and services that are tailored for higher education, research institutions and government entities. Did you know that helping these organizations fortify their cybersecurity strategy is also a core focus for Internet2?

Given the critical need to protect information and intellectual property, it makes perfect sense. At Palo Alto Networks, we’ve worked with the higher education sector for many years, so developing higher education-focused security solutions for the Internet2 NET+ program was a natural fit.

Palo Alto Networks saw a need and wanted to be a part of this initiative. We worked with the Internet2 program’s validation committee members to design security solutions that address key challenges for higher education.

Charlie McMahon, interim chief information officer at Stony Brook University in New York, has served on several validation committees for the Internet2 NET+ program. In a recent podcast, he explained the role of the committees: “We deconstruct vendors’ offerings and then put them back together in a way that makes sense for higher education.”

By taking the lead in negotiating contract pricing and establishing terms and conditions that fit higher education needs, Internet2 can often help colleges and universities access technology, including cybersecurity solutions, more quickly.

Automating Security to Increase IT Effectiveness

During our podcast, McMahon shared how Stony Brook University is using Palo Alto Networks products to automate and improve its security posture. Stony Brook is a public research university on Long Island with more than 26,000 students. It was also one of the first customers to purchase the Cortex XDR Pro solution through the Internet2 NET+ program.

McMahon told us that Cortex XDR Pro has transformed how Stony Brook approaches security, especially because of the automated protection it provides: “Higher education is always strapped for cash, and we’re always short on people. To survive, we have to find ways to automate security… That’s a big burden off our small staff because Palo Alto Networks lets us do that.”

Preparing for the Future of Remote Access

COVID-19 lockdowns thrusted McMahon’s team into overdrive in 2020 as Stony Brook University scrambled to set up secure remote access to campus networks for students and faculty. Looking ahead, McMahon said he sees Prisma Access from Palo Alto Networks as an easy way to set up secure virtual private network (VPN) connectivity for users who will be remote for the long term.

“No matter where you are worldwide, Prisma has a VPN connection near to you,” McMahon said. “That’s a big deal for us. If you’re doing certain types of research for the U.S. Department of Defense, or the U.S. Department of Energy, or if you’re dealing with HIPAA-protected data, and you’re working … off your home network, it’s imperative that you have absolutely secure communications back to your data repositories. Prisma lets us do that with a high degree of confidence.”

Getting Strategic with the Security Stack at Stony Brook

McMahon, who has more than 25 years of experience in higher education technology, said he believes security technology is evolving to where it can help prevent bad things from happening instead of forcing teams to always be in a reactive mode.

“We used to talk about something called ‘defense-in-depth,’ with layers and layers and layers,” he said. “What we see now is defense and integration. And the key for the future, in my mind, is being able to integrate those technologies – not letting them stand alone, but letting them interoperate.”

According to McMahon, when the IT team at Stony Brook started thinking more strategically about the university’s security stack, they decided to seek out technology partners that worked well with each other. He said they wanted solutions to be compatible and interoperable while capable of sharing data with each other. Another plus is Palo Alto Networks depth of experience working with the higher education sector.

“One reason Palo Alto Networks is one of our partners is that we wanted our firewalls to talk with our network authentication mechanisms, and we wanted our firewalls to talk to VMware and their security. Palo Alto Networks understands higher education. And they’ve got an array of products they can use to solve almost any security problem that you have. I also appreciate that I’m able to sit down, not only with my sales rep, but with people like Hunter, who are solution-oriented and talk about my needs strategically. Palo Alto Networks is willing to incorporate that input into the roadmap. A lot of companies say they do that, but not many of them really do.”

Learn More

Listen to our full interview with Charlie McMahon and get more insights on automating security in the podcast featuring Stony Brook University.

For more information about the NET+ program, contact your Palo Alto Networks representative or visit our Internet2 website.