Apr 21 2014

Colleges Move to the Cloud for Security

Cloud protection services enable campuses to keep up with security threats while reducing overhead.

The Information Services and Technology group at the University of California, Berkeley knows that the institution’s colleges and departments have numerous choices among service providers today — there’s no shortage of companies offering public-, private- or hybrid-cloud services.

While IST has always been a centralized service bureau, users typically haven’t had as many options. Over the past few years, the department fully virtualized its infrastructure and started to offer cloud-based IT services at competitive rates.

“We started with virtualization back in 2007 and have kept down that path ever since,” says Blaine Isbelle, systems administrator at UC Berkeley. “We provision applications for the colleges, and as part of the service, deliver the underlying security over our private cloud.”


The percentage of IT managers surveyed who say cloud computing and SaaS solutions providers can offer better security than their own IT security team can provide

SOURCE: “2013 U.S. Cloud Security Survey” (IDC, September 2013))

Isbelle says UC Berkeley first started deploying Trend Micro Deep Security about three years ago. IST offers anti-virus and firewall protection, as well as a blacklist service. “Today, we have 650 virtual machines running over Trend Micro, applications that range from Active Directory to FileMaker Pro and SQL Server databases,” he says.

Frank Dickson, an industry principal for Frost & Sullivan who covers network security, says cloud-based security services appeal to organizations because IT budgets have not kept pace with the threat landscape. “With the exponential growth of new threats and attacks, organizations see cloud-based security as an efficient way to provide security,” he explains. “They can buy Security as a Service and don’t have to maintain the hardware and software and upgrade the equipment every three to five years.”

Many Reasons to Go Cloud

Justin Harris, user support analyst for the University of Missouri’s Residential Life department, agrees that there are many cost-effective reasons to deploy cloud-based security. He uses Webroot’s Secure Anywhere cloud-based endpoint service to protect the desktops of 250 employees and another 250 part-time student workers.

“We pay an annual subscription, which cuts down on overhead,” Harris says. “We no longer have to replace aging servers, and another big advantage is that I can log in anywhere and address an issue.”

Residential Life has used Webroot’s software since 2006 to fight spyware. The department subscribed to the cloud service when the company made anti-virus and filtering tools available via the cloud. “The cloud-based anti-virus software updates itself,” he says. “There’s not a lot of overhead involved, and they offer pretty powerful reporting tools as well.”

Lilith Calbridge, network/systems specialist for the Dallas County Community College District in Texas, uses the underlying cloud-based security in the Microsoft Exchange portion of Office 365 to support 9,000 faculty and staff. “We plan to roll out the cloud-based service to 85,000 students at the seven campuses throughout the course of this year,” she e says. “What we like about the cloud is that we don’t have to manage email servers anymore. There are no more repairs, and downtime is minimal.”

Three Reasons to Choose Cloud-Based Security

Service provider Webroot offers three important reasons IT departments should consider moving security gateways to the cloud:

  • Better defense against zero-day threats and spam servers. Hackers rely on speed to propagate threats across networks, aiming to infiltrate new zero-day attacks before threat signatures can be developed and deployed. In contrast, cloud-based web gateways start using malware signatures and blocked URL lists in a much more timely fashion, which reduces hacking incidents. 
  • More comprehensive signature and URL databases. Most IT departments have a limited amount of processing and storage capacity. Security manufacturers are typically forced to limit the size of signature and URL databases locally. Cloud-based secure web gateways maintain databases of millions of threat signatures and hundreds of millions of URLs, making threat prevention more comprehensive.
  • Support for remote employees. Sure, the network may be secure, but what happens when a professor visits another campus? In cloud-based systems, remote and roaming workers are protected the second they connect to the Internet without having to use a virtual private network.