Cloud company aims to create 'cyber-secure schools' with malware security solution


When a teacher at a Catholic school in Canada tried accessing the website she frequently visits for educational materials earlier this summer, she found herself locked out of the site.

Thinking there had been a mistake, her school contacted its new security service provider and let them know. The provider, the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) — using software from its new partnership with Nominum — discovered that the teacher’s go-to website had been blocked by CIRA’s security solutions after being compromised by malicious activity.

“What was good yesterday may not be good today, in terms of a trusted domain. It’s dynamic,” said Arlen Frew, the general manager of security and applications at Nominum, in an interview. “Things are getting hacked all the time and breached all the time. In this case, [the website] probably was put on our threat list for good reason.”

Using CIRA’s domain-name system (DNS) firewall together with Nominum software, the two entities have come together to create the “Cyber-Secure Schools” initiative — a way to offer their cloud security solution to K-12 school districts and higher education institutions at an affordable rate.

The solution, called D-Zone, reduces the risk of ransomware, malware and phishing attacks on education institutions by evaluating every domain name in real-time as users attempt to access different websites. The solution also works for K-12 districts that wish to filter out content deemed inappropriate for its students — such as social media websites, or sites that may depict gambling, violence, pornography or other sensitive material.

“We can block or allow traffic based on whether or not content is appropriate for the school, its students or its administrators,” Frew said. “Or we can block malicious activity from what we know are emerging threats on the internet.”

The Cyber-Secure Schools program is Nominum’s first time really edging into the education space — the company primarily works with carrier networks like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon — but with so much of technology intertwined with education today, it became necessary for Nominum to consider expanding into education, Frew said.

“There’s a very big threat, from an education perspective, since so much learning is happening online now,” he said. “The internet can be a very dangerous place.”

CIRA has been working with education institutions for about two years, Mark Gaudet, the company’s manager of business development, told EdScoop. Their plan has been two-fold: to focus on filtering content to comply with each institution’s policies and on protecting the institution’s network and devices from cyberattacks. But, to be able to deliver on that, CIRA needs education partners. And to get education partners, CIRA had to make its solutions fit into the constraints of a school district’s budget.

In fitting with that, CIRA is now offering its products to schools for 25 cents per student per year – a more accommodating price structure for an education market, Gaudet said, because, with students primarily being part-time users, schools often have sporadic bandwidth and traffic patterns.

About five districts and another handful of colleges and universities, including the University of Winnipeg and Royal Roads University, have already signed on for those cloud security services for the 2017-18 academic year.

Although its education clients so far are all Canada-based, D-Zone is available to American institutions as well.

One of the best features of the security solution is that customers — in this case, administrators or IT specialists with access to the D-Zone dashboard — can actually see an ever-growing list of the malware that has been identified and blocked from the school’s users.

“It’s really simple to look,” Gaudet said. “It’s a great, intuitive interface and you can drill down and a see a list of what’s blocked.”

Adding to that, Frew said education customers will appreciate D-Zone because they can physically see the value of the product. “You don’t have to take our word for it,” he said. “You simply turn it on … and see what it’s actually doing.”