Case Study

Hong Kong International School enhances security posture to prevent cyberthreats and secure student data

In brief




Hong Kong International School (HKIS) needed to improve its security posture to cope with a rapidly increasing, sophisticated threat landscape, while also safeguarding student data.


Palo Alto Networks NGFW and Cortex® XDR™ provided enhanced visibility, increased threat detection, simplified management, and reduced time to detect and respond.

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Quantifiable Data

Single platform for ease of management

  • A small IT infrastructure team can monitor thousands of attacks every day
  • Palo Alto Networks NGFW blocks over 90% of incoming threats

Increased visibility

  • In one month, the new Palo Alto Networks firewall warded off 31K attacks

Reduced time to detect

  • Can correlate hundreds of alerts from endpoint and network to a few incidents

Quick response and remediation

  • Shortened response time for incidents from weeks to a few hours
  • Faster malware detection


As a leading international school with an American curriculum, Hong Kong International School (HKIS) has approximately 2,800 students from Reception One (pre-kindergarten) to Grade 12. HKIS has two campuses located on the south side of Hong Kong Island. The lower and upper primary schools are located in Repulse Bay, and the middle and high schools are in Tai Tam.

HKIS made the transition to online learning in 2019–20, and the school needed to ensure that all student devices and those of the teaching faculty, employees, and support staff remained uncompromised. With as many as 670 middle school students and 600–700 high school students logging in using MacBooks, iPads, mobile phones, and other personal devices, the main concern was to guarantee that students, teaching, and support staff had a secure manner of connecting to school systems. As some of HKIS’ systems enabled software as a service (SaaS), the SaaS vendors also had to be securely connected. Guaranteeing the safety of school-owned devices as well as personal devices was no easy feat.

Alongside, HKIS was aware of the increasing threat landscape and re-evaluating its security infrastructure to protect the school against vulnerabilities and secure staff and student personal data. Roy Bas, Information Technology Manager at HKIS says, “As a school, we are a firm believer that one of the best strategies for strengthening cybersecurity is through continuous education of our users. We also saw the need to update our tools to help our team with managing our network security.” Since they had a long-standing relationship Palo Alto Networks, HKIS opted to bring the cybersecurity company in to set up next-generation firewalls. “Palo Alto Networks was the obvious choice when we looked to upgrade our NGFW as the company has a consistent track record of having supported us over the years,” shares Roy. He adds, “The reputation of the company in the cybersecurity arena is well-established.”

Effective network security means NGFW

A cybersecurity threat in 2020 expedited the need for HKIS to upgrade its security posture. When the school’s systems stopped responding, Roy looked no further than Palo Alto Networks. Despite being the weekend, the company sent experts to check the school’s IT infrastructure and verify the issue. They prepared an incident report and chalked out a solution. “It’s the unconditional support that we received from the team that stands out. In little over a week, the incident report was prepared, network firewalls were reconfigured, and the demilitarized zone or DMZ switch was set in motion,” Roy reiterates. Onboarding of Palo Alto Networks Next-Generation Firewall appliances and Cortex XDR was undertaken between June–July 2020, when the school was closed for the summer. HKIS can now prevent intrusions, malware, and conduct command and control at every stage of the attack lifecycle so as to prevent advanced threats.

A holistic cybersecurity strategy that safeguards the school and students

Moving to a single platform has simplified monitoring, improved detection, and enhanced safety. Today, artificial intelligence helps determine which threats are real and which are false positives. AI is able to uncover risks and even rate them as high, medium, or low in terms of severity before security experts work toward fixing them. HKIS had a high attack frequency. Threats are constantly coming from around the world, and Palo Alto Networks NGFW helps HKIS drop the connection with these threats. “We have thousands of attacks every day. With Palo Alto Networks NGFW, most of the incoming threats are already warded off. We can now detect threats immediately, with more ease, and warn the specific user to take remedial action,” Roy affirms.

Investing in Cortex XDR, although an expensive proposition, has delivered the necessary benefits. Palo Alto Networks NGFW identifies and scans all traffic—applications, users, and content—across all ports and protocols to help HKIS stay ahead of threats. Cortex XDR is user-friendly and does not have too many logs that need to be scanned. If a threat is identified, Cortex XDR blocks network access instantly and only allows access on authorization. This gives HKIS the opportunity to educate the user and help them clean up their devices from potential cyberthreats. It allows for more transparency, with detailed reports, and clearly indicates what the firewalls are protecting the school from.

Given the current cyberthreat landscape, schools like HKIS need to be even more cautious with regard to their security infrastructure, preparing themselves for sophisticated attacks that could lie ahead. HKIS chose Palo Alto Networks to mitigate future threats and transform to a next-generation cybersecurity platform.