Pitt County School District uses Pomerium to manage access control and limit exposure to ransomware

Pitt County School district wanted to bring their infrastructure’s security up-to-par. Their goal was the following: 

  • Supporting multiple locations
  • Reducing user friction
  • Gaining a unified access management system
  • Enforcing identity and context-aware access 

Centralized Access Control

One tool to manage remote access control for all users, applying central auditing and a unified logging system.

Enforced Two-Factor Authentication

No need to update or replace legacy applications and platforms that don’t include modern SSO or multi-factor authentication.

Supports Legacy Infrastructure

Minimizing the need to update or replace legacy infrastructure.

Cory Rankin
LAN Engineer at Pitt County
“Instead of opening all sorts of web servers to the outside, we secure them behind pomerium internally and externally. This has helped us achieve a centralized access control model with less vulnerable attack surface area in place of the previous perimeter-based security model.”

Company Background

North Carolina’s Pitt County School district needed to centralize and manage secure, identity-aware access control for 25,000 K-12 students and 3,300 employees across dozens of locations. In adopting Pomerium, the school district achieved:

  • Centralized auditing capabilities to their unified logging system
  • Enforced Two-factor authentication
  • A better remote access solution

Best of all, Pomerium works with their existing legacy infrastructure, meaning no dramatic shifts on their end.

With Pomerium, I can grant a Gmail account access to a remote server without the user knowing the password.

Cory Rankin, LAN Engineer at Pitt County

Pitt County School District’s Challenges

Like all complex multi-location organizations, Pitt County School district faced many recurring access control headaches:

  • They needed to update their security system, but feared making adjustments on legacy applications
  • They needed to limit their exposure to the threat of ransomware.
  • They needed to layer uniform access control over critical legacy applications.
  • They needed to limit attack surface area and lateral movement in the case of a breach.
  • They needed a centralized access management solution for overseeing multiple locations.
  • They needed a remote access solution that didn’t frustrate their end-users.

Faced with the above problems, Pitt County Schools district set out to look for an access management solution that would address their needs and maintain compliance with the Center for Internet Security (CIS) controls. Sensitive information about K-12 students was at stake and Pitt County Schools could not risk ransomware bankrupting the county.

Progressing to a Solution

With ransomware events increasing in frequency, Pitt County Schools began testing many potential solutions and found them all wanting. For example, Google’s Identity-Aware Proxy could not work with Pitt County Schools’ existing application stack and would have required extensive changes on their infrastructure to make it function.

After trying multiple solutions, Pitt County chose Pomerium to enforce centralized access management and multi-factor authentication. Pomerium helped them reduce user friction by avoiding the VPN’s security and network issues that frustrates their users. This enables Pitt County to minimize necessary maintenance man-hours and costs while modernizing their entire school district’s infrastructure against the evolving threat landscape.

Legacy Infrastructure Support

Pitt County Schools needed to layer security without making substantial changes to their legacy infrastructure, which contributed to their decision to use Pomerium. Pomerium supports any infrastructure or deployment environment from containers and clouds to on-premise, bare-metal, and virtual machines, making it easy to implement on top of applications that need to be protected.

Centralized Access Management

The district was drawn to Pomerium’s ability to provide centralized access, which enabled auditing capabilities and helped fulfill compliance mandates around CIS Controls.

The efficiency of [hierarchical authorization capabilities] in the console is dramatic. My goal would be to host everything behind Pomerium so that as soon as I drop someone out of a group, they can’t get to places they no longer have access to.

Cory Rankin

Remote Access Solution

The district’s engineers already knew the problem: VPNs were a horrible user experience. Users forgot to disconnect and were using the school’s network for non-work-related business. The security system ran on single-factor authentication and worked via all-or-nothing access, exposing them to the risk of lateral movement. Pomerium’s context-aware access helped the district elevate from a perimeter-based VPN security model to a zero trust-based model.

The user experience is not great for VPN. It’s confusing to know which traffic is going where if you’re doing split tunnel and then people forget to disconnect. You’re opening employees up to doing something on our property that they didn’t mean to.

Cory Rankin

Looking Ahead

Pitt County School district is looking to eventually put all applications behind Pomerium as their unified access control system, with strong confidence that their users and infrastructure are protected from bad actors.

After implementing Pomerium, Cory Rankin notes that their technicians need a quarter to half of the text exchanges to troubleshoot access issues than before, most of which can be solved remotely to reflect the needs of modern times. This means that additional security has been implemented without disrupting normal school processes — and in the case of troubleshooting access issues, Pomerium’s process is more efficient in comparison.

Finally, the users themselves are happy when the tech environment works as expected.

My favorite part where users are like: “Oh, it just works?” And it’s crazy. It didn’t work like that before. So that’s awesome.

Cory Rankin

To learn how your company can also benefit from deploying Pomerium on your infrastructure, get started here.

Pitt County School district oversees multiple schools and thousands of users with varying levels of access.

Infrastructure
Cisco UCS Hyperflex
Platform
vCenter
Proxies
NGINX, Apache, IIS
Provisioning
vSphere
DNS
Microsoft AD DS / DNS
Database
PostgreSQL, MySQL, MSSQL
Logging & Monitoring
Elasticsearch, Prometheus, Grafana, Graylog, Zabbix

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