The University of Westminster is an educational institution for the modern age. It delivers relevant, career-focused courses to more than 20,000 students from around the world—studying at campuses in central London and Harrow.
The university works with Palo Alto Networks’ next-generation firewall solution, along with its security supplier Khipu Networks, to protect its networks and enable secure access to thousands of its users, whenever they need it and wherever they may be.
FREEDOM OF ACCESS AND TOTAL SECURITY–24/7
The University of Westminster’s network presented a number of challenges. With services delivered via the cloud, it has to provide uninterrupted network access at all times to all students and staff. This ease of access needed to be combined with complete security. As with all higher educational institutions, the University of Westminster holds highly sensitive information, including potentially valuable research, intellectual property and confidential student data.
The university therefore faced a delicate balancing act, further complicated by the fact that it had little control over what was accessed over the network, with near total user freedom on the choice of applications and websites.
“Our lack of network visibility left the network vulnerable to attack and abuse. With no insight into inappropriate activities such as illegal file sharing, it also posed the threat of legal action.” added Ashley Pereira, Network Security Officer at the university.
new ways of seeing
Moving to keep pace with the rapidly changing needs of its students, the university began work on extending support to mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. This, and the fact that its legacy firewall was approaching end of life, focused Information Services’ mind on a solution that could meet all of its needs.
The existing firewall and web access solution was actually a patchwork of two different systems provided by different vendors. Whilst it was ‘good enough’ for the present, it would become obsolete very quickly. In addition, the administration and maintenance of this diversified solution was costly, both in terms of time and money.
Ashley added: “What we found in Palo Alto Networks was a firewall that brought the longevity and flexibility we needed to be at the cutting edge for the next five years. It gave us control and simplified our own administration. It sounded too good to be true, but it was amazing to find that it actually does what it claimed to do—and more.”
For the university, one particularly impressive factor was the immediate visibility Palo Alto Networks brought. Palo Alto Networks shed new light on the network, right down to individual users, websites and applications.
improved insights, peace of mind
Working in partnership with Khipu Networks, who supplied and installed a pair of PA-5050 firewalls, the university has enabled complete visibility and control of all network traffic, including P2P, virus, web content and malware. Through the Global Protect application, these next-generation firewall capabilities are extended to students and staff regardless of location.
This creates a seamless and secure work environment across the university’s campuses, and also for faculty staff and students travelling abroad on university business. By no longer having to control network access manually, management time at the university has been reduced significantly, a benefit that has huge cost benefits to the organisation as a whole.
In addition, Westminster has removed the issue of having multiple points of failure, enabling greater IT resilience than ever before and ensuring fast, reliable and constant access. Administration, maintenance and cost demands have all decreased as a result, with the removal of multiple vendors and servicing contracts.
With a single solution, upgrades to the system are easy to plan for and implement— without the need to be concerned that changes to one component of the firewall might not be compatible with another.
dealing with unrecognized threats
The Information Security team also benefits from Palo Alto Networks’ virtual sandbox, WildFire, which is hosted in the cloud. Now, if a file is unrecognised when it arrives at the firewall, it is sent to the WildFire cloud, and dealt with appropriately. A signature for the threat is then created, preventing any follow up threats from causing damage. WildFire offers a huge security improvement for the university, which could not deploy URL content filtering with its previous solutions.
This benefit, combined with total network visibility, threat detection and protection, means the university no longer has to worry about user activities and network access.
Ashley concluded: “With Palo Alto Networks, the University of Westminster has strengthened security over the long term, delivered better legitimate access whilst controlling inappropriate usage and significantly simplifying the entire process.”