In the ever-evolving landscape of education, schools worldwide are embracing digital solutions to enhance the learning experience for students and teachers. For many, remote learning became a catalyst for most schools to undergo digital transformation. With the development of bespoke applications, new ways of organising and distributing information, and multiplying channels of communication with students and teachers, school have faced considerable changes in their infrastructure management and security considerations.
Newington College, an esteemed educational institution in Australia, stands at the forefront of this transformation. In 2022, Newington embarked on a journey with Microsoft and Quorum to fully leverage the power of the Microsoft Suite to revolutionise the way students and teachers engage and collaborate, improving the security and management of the technology landscape.
Quorum was brought in as a strategic partner for their expertise in Microsoft Azure deployments, coupled with the strength of their Security practice. Working with the Newington College team on their Azure journey the Quorum team helped to identify key factors that would streamline the maintenance and management of devices and their environment.
As a key priority, the collaboration focussed on minimising security threats, achieved through an upgrade to a Microsoft 365 A5 license. This in turn created a platform to enhance the security environment and streamline the management required from the internal IT team. This case study delves into the remarkable journey of Newington College and highlights the key benefits and outcomes achieved through the implementation of Microsoft solutions in partnership with Quorum.
Setting the stage
Newington College has had a long history of cloud technology, with multiple cloud platforms, a range of MDM tools in play and custom applications developed internally. In this recent digital transformation, the Newington team conducted an Essential 8 audit with the results highlighting key areas requiring remediation, in particular servers and endpoints. With 2,100 students based at three campuses across New South Wales, a BYOD environment supporting both Macs and PCs for staff and students, the challenge of managing these remediation efforts is apparent, and the opportunity to bring in a specialist partner provided guidance for the internal team.
Recognising the need for a comprehensive solution, Newington College decided to use these insights as a fresh start, looking at what could be done to deliver best practice, providing students, teachers, and administrators with a centralised and safe environment for communication, collaboration, and organisation.
A changing security landscape
While Cyber Security threats have been growing across all industries, there is a noticeable upwards trend in the education and training sector. The Australian Cyber Security Centre noted that for the period July 2021 to June 2022, the education and training sector reported the most ransomware incidents. Faced with the challenges of a highly fragmented environment, and finding team members who are trained to manage cyber threats across the various platforms is a challenge and leaves schools vulnerable to critical incidents.
Dan Collins, who serves as the IT director at Newington College, has witnessed the immense change over the last few years, the biggest of which has been around security, “The risks around cybersecurity have changed dramatically since I’ve been here.” Much of this was a function of the rapid transformation that came about because of COVID, and much of that crisis became exacerbated by the legacy of custom-built apps that proved difficult to update and maintain. “It simply wasn’t a sustainable environment for us. We needed to simplify and standardize on a smaller set of effective education solutions to support our students and educators,” Dan explains.
Grant Joslin, Newington College’s ICT Infrastructure Manager, echoes Dan’s concerns: “Three years ago you were only worried about somebody taking over a student email account and sending spam out of it. But these days it’s a whole lot more than that.”
With this understanding, Newington College held security principals in the highest of priority with its digital transformation, future proofing the environment and empowering the team to respond to the challenges at hand.
Upgrading security through Microsoft
Enter Microsoft 365, specifically an upgrade from the A3 to the A5 license, which gave Newington access to a comprehensive suite of solutions.
Grant describes their reasoning process: “We’re a school, so we don’t have endless amounts of resources. Cyber Security can tend to be a bit of a bottomless pit of money at times. So instead, we uplifted into the A5 offering with Microsoft, which gave us a lot of the tools.”
He highlights a few of the products in particular: “Microsoft Defender for Endpoint—to secure Macs and Windows PCs for staff and students. That really helps the on-prem component of our identities. We also have Microsoft Defender for Cloud and Microsoft Cloud App Security (MCAS), which helps students with the SaaS side of things, to secure the internet apps that they use to connect to each other.”
Quorum stepped in to implement Cyber One, a bespoke Managed Detection and Response Solution that sits across Microsoft Sentinel and Defender suites to acts as a managed security service. “We realized that using most of the Microsoft Education and security stack, including the reporting and monitoring that Cyber One provides, would give us the easiest way to integrate a proper toolset—and give us visibility across the landscape—while doing so more affordably than going with say ten other tools that required further patching together,” Grant shared.
A seamless learning environment
The Quorum and Newington teams utilised the Azure Cloud Adoption Framework (CAF) to a gain a full picture of the process, tools, and goals to help implement the business and technological strategies for their new cloud environment.
To consolidate software and platform environments several services and applications were moved to Azure which further reduced the amount of work required to maintain them. Dan explains: “we wanted less complexity with fewer things to manage and obfuscating the need to acquire knowledge of all these other platforms, particularly when it’s hard to get those skills in the first place.” Now, he notes, “We don’t have to worry about patching those apps and tools nearly as much, given they’re cloud-based and Microsoft and our partner Quorum take care of most necessary updates on-demand, 24/7. It really reduces the footprint of things our small IT team maintains.”
The right toolset to support the team
Traditionally security has fallen to the networking or infrastructure teams, but with the vast array of assets to manage and the increasing complexity and frequency of cyber security threats, Newington looked for a solution that would support the internal team and provide automatic remediation as threats appear.
Quorum’s Cyber One is a key tool within Newington’s security architecture, streamlining security service delivery and incident management across the entire Microsoft 365 and Azure stack. With Cyber One integrated into the environment, the Newington team can review intelligent security analytics and threat intelligence within one holistic and streamlined solution that provides everything from alert detection, threat visibility, incident management and vulnerability insights.
Designed to benefit teams who would otherwise manage multiple channels, platforms, integrations, and data feeds, creating time-consuming and complex challenges to centralising security practices, Cyber One has been a critical solution to achieving streamlined security management.
Harry Cuthbert, Technical Engagement Manager, was very pleased with Newington College’s commitment to security noting, “We get a lot of customers who aren’t willing to invest in cybersecurity until it’s too late, but Newington College understood the importance of security inside their environment, and it really was a lot for them to manage all these third-party integrations.”
“The Microsoft Azure cloud helped to simplify that, and it also allowed them to get significantly more information, telemetry—maybe not to stop every attack, but possibly to mitigate as much of it as possible and certainly to stop the spread of it around the rest of their environment. Plus, as with any technology environment, it’s vital to have post-attack investigation analysis and auditing after the fact, where we trace if anything had happened—what it potentially affected and how far.”
From Harry’s perspective, “Azure eases integration and logging. Defender for Cloud talks to Defender for Endpoint, which talks to MCAS, and it results in a single pane of glass. People used to be concerned about putting too many eggs in one basket ten to fifteen years ago. Today that’s changed. Education organizations are constrained and see the value of simplifying. They’re able to do a lot more with a lot less in the Microsoft ecosystem, especially when it comes to enhancing security.”
Partnerships that achieve the right solution
The case study of Newington College demonstrates how meaningful and strategic partnerships can unlock a new path to achieving goals. The transformational power of the Microsoft suite, when delivered strategically, can transform capabilities and future proof an organisation even when it is at a primary target for attackers. For Newington, the greatest success lay in the efficiencies gained and benefit realised across the Microsoft stack by simplifying the deployment and support model across the environment. This process has become a catalyst for enhanced engagement, collaboration, and student success, helping the IT team stay on the front foot of opportunities. As the adoption of digital solutions continues to shape the future of education, the collaboration between Newington, Microsoft and Quorum stands as a testament to the potential of technology to revolutionise the way we teach and learn.