The non-profit Gynecologic Oncology Group (GOG) is a cooperative, multidisciplinary cancer research group focused on female pelvic malignancies such as ovarian, uterine, and cervical cancers. Its main function is to develop and run clinical trials and then analyze and distribute the results. Since its 1970 founding, GOG has grown from 11 member institutions to more than 50 principal centers and 160 affiliate organizations, completed more than 300 clinical trials, and contributed more than 550 peer-reviewed manuscripts. GOG’s research efforts are supported by three offices: Administration (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), Finance and Development (Crofton, Maryland), and Statistical and Data Center (Buffalo, New York).
Once burned—twice shy; twice burned—time to get the McAfee solution
Scott Gould is senior network and systems analyst in GOG’s Statistical and Data Center (SDC). He presides over a network security infrastructure that includes the McAfee Email and Web Security Appliance and McAfee VirusScan® Enterprise software, which runs on every server and user desktop and laptop PC. But that wasn’t always the case.
In 2003, the GOG offices relied on different desktop-based anti-viral protection and a mail server-based SMTP filter. There was no HTTP filtering; it was up to the desktop product to stop web-based malware at the individual PC and laptop level.
“Remember the I Love You and Melissa viruses?” asks Gould. “Someone in our department released an infected file that slipped past the desktop product’s defenses and went on to infect some of our file shares. That was the last file-level crisis I ever want to deal with.” Soon all GOG’s servers and desktop and laptop machines were running McAfee VirusScan Enterprise.
Then it was the SMTP filter’s turn. GOG, which maintains close working relationships with many academic centers, suddenly began receiving a massive amount of spam email, apparently generated by several student PCs at a local university. “That onslaught brought the mail server to its knees,” says Gould. “We were forced to cut off all email from the university until things were cleaned up. We couldn’t even let the email get through to the server. But we would have been OK if we could have offloaded the traffic to a gateway appliance.” Lesson learned.
Even before the desktop and mail-server-based products failed in their moments of truth, Gould knew the products’ days were numbered. For example, neither product offered the simplicity and extensive customizability Gould wanted. Consider the following: the GOG profile includes four user types and six categories of differently configured servers. Support technicians handle most installations manually and will create user-specific policies within the anti-viral software upon request. And Gould likes to create custom filters on the fly.
“All this was almost impossible to do with the old setup,” Gould says. “We just couldn’t wait around for these products to come up to our ease-of-use standards.” Gould began investigating one-stop SMTP and HTTP filtering solutions that resided at the gateway, not on the server.
Simplicity, customizability, centralized control, and, ultimately, overall effectiveness were all key aspects of the ideal solution. After an intensive vetting process, GOG chose McAfee Email and Web Security Appliance. “The confidence we had in our existing McAfee VirusScan Enterprise solution weighed heavily in our decision making,” Gould says.
"All this was almost impossible to do with our old setup. With our McAfee solution, basically it’s ‘set it and forget it.’ Things just work."Scott Gould
Senior Network & Systems Analyst, Gynecologic Oncology Group
Make short work of tall orders with limited technical staff
GOG places a lot of emphasis on its in-house application development efforts, which require that the SDC IT staff squeeze whatever it can out of its network security solution.
“We don’t outsource anything,” says Gould. “If we need an application created—and we often do—it’s done right here.” The SDC staff is tasked with aiding in the design of the clinical trials, managing the data, publishing statistical reports, and more. However, Gould says, without the McAfee solution keeping the environment safe, “as a group, we couldn’t support the office-to-IT-staff ratio we have—and the entire office wouldn’t be able to produce nearly as much as it’s capable of now.”
In addition to Gould, the IT staff comprises two support technicians, two technical writers, and six developers. One “multi-task” support person is also on hand at both the Administration and Finance and Development offices. Gould and the technicians occasionally travel to the other locations to assist with major roll-outs, but generally, they take care of things from the Buffalo location. The three offices are connected over the Internet via encrypted VPN tunnels utilizing Cisco Pix Firewall technology. Gould takes advantage of McAfee ePolicy Orchestrator® (ePO™), a console for centrally managing both McAfee Email and Web Security Appliance and McAfee VirusScan Enterprise, which adds up to big time savings.
Because the IT staff is small and tilted toward development rather than support, Gould and the technicians need the ability to act single-handedly and quickly. “A lot of responsibility falls on one person’s shoulders a lot of the time,” says Gould. “That’s OK if you’re dealing with only one fire— but when things get chaotic, you really need tools that work for you, not against you. That’s the only way to stay damage-free and put a crisis behind you fast.”
McAfee Email and Web Security Appliance automatically handles “virtually all” of the HTTP and SMTP traffic that comes through the GOG offices, says Gould. “It gives us full control over inbound mail traffic and what our users are perusing on the Internet—even though their web surfing may be innocent, that doesn’t make it harmless or impervious to infection.”
The McAfee Email and Web Security appliance is so thorough, in fact, that Gould rarely needs to run reports on its operation. “I do monitor the system’s data tools to make sure things are in line with expectations, such as whether we’re getting the appropriate ratio of blocked email,” he says. Over nearly three years, McAfee Email and Web Security Appliance blocked more than 53 percent of GOG’s incoming email as either spam or a phishing expedition. Of particular note, the system quarantined only .8 percent of all email traffic. That means more than 99 percent of the time, McAfee Email and Web Security Appliance definitively classified email as acceptable or not. You can’t argue with results like that. “Basically, it’s ‘set it and forget it’,” Gould says. “With our McAfee solution, things just work.”
And, that translates directly into greater individual and organizational productivity.
Control the gateway, lock down the desktop, and boost performance enterprisewide
No spam or viruses via email, no malware from the Internet, and mail servers that stay up and running. Those were big changes for GOG employees.
For example, the typical GOG user was dealing with at least 20 to 30 spam emails each day, according to Gould. Today, very little spam actually makes it to the desktop.
“I’m a perfect example,” says Gould. “I used to routinely change my email address once every year just so I could start fresh. Well, I haven’t changed my email address in more than two years—and I average one spam a day, if not fewer. McAfee’s spam filtering engine has been nothing short of a godsend.”
"We’re able to spend much more time doing what we’re here to do: stay focused on clinical trials trying to find a cure for cancer."Scott Gould
Senior Network & Systems Analyst, Gynecologic Oncology Group
Similarly, now that their HTTP traffic is being filtered, GOG users have seen desktop infections virtually disappear. “Maybe once a month we’ll see a pop-up from a file that made it through to a machine before being tackled by the desktop product,” says Gould. “Web-based malware that hits a machine is down to almost nothing.”
Gould hasn’t tried to measure the time savings and productivity gains conferred by the McAfee solution. But he knows it is substantial, especially when accumulated year after year. “The system has benefited everyone—from users to the support techs who help users to every one of our members who interacts with a GOG office,” says Gould. “If you add all that up, over time, we’re able to spend much more time doing what we’re here to do: stay focused on clinical trials trying to find a cure for cancer.”