NRL, the National Rugby League, runs a rugby league (football) competition consisting of 15 Australian Teams and one NZ team.  A top tier sport, Rugby League has been played continually in Australia since 1908.  NRL employs around 500 full time staff and during the football season, employs an additional 250-300 casual staff.

A growing fan base, new media such as streaming, remote working, collaboration with partners and online judicial hearings meant an increase security awareness. The network was evolving and the NRL needed to step up network security.

NRL’s business model is predicated on the creation and distribution of content – sporting entertainment.  There are the live football games that can be enjoyed by fans at the grounds, but most importantly, content is distributed electronically using broadcast, streaming and web. Content is made available to fans as entertainment, while referees and administrators scrutinise content to make judgements about rule compliance and the consequences for transgressions and for the team and coaching staff, the content is valuable for analysis, learning and planning.

There is a lot at stake and a lot to be protected.  In particular, the quality of the fan content is critical.  Downtime is not tolerated.

Like many organisations, the growing pains of the NRL network presents complexity and requires an effective security infrastructure.

After an evaluation of different approaches, to protect the network and assets, NRL partnered with Kytec to deliver Umbrella from Cisco. A cost effective, cloud-based security solution which operates at the DNS layer, incorporates interactive threat intelligence, and protects multiple systems.  It can block malicious websites/URL’s, including the hyperlinks found in phishing emails for example, as well as access to malicious applications.  Umbrella also performs a firewall function by blocking unwanted traffic using IP, port, and protocol rules.  The ultimate benefit for NRL is the detection of threats before problems occur.

Umbrella rolls multiple functions into one simple solution.  It can protect devices, inhouse and remote users from any location.

“It’s simple, we just point the DNS at Umbrella.  For us, implementing Umbrella was a high impact, low-cost solution.  It frees up our IT resources to be deployed elsewhere”.  Isaac Ibarra, Systems Engineer.

“Umbrella protects all our endpoints and be mindful that not only are our staff often working from home, but they may also use their work computer to visit personal sites.  There is also the ever-present issue of shadow IT where staff are procuring applications outside of IT knowledge.  In this case, Umbrella helps by detecting unauthorised applications, providing a risk assessment, and reporting on the findings.  Umbrella is flexible, open, set and forget solution.  Cloud based, with no server infrastructure to worry about.”  Isaac Ibarra

Umbrella leverages a threat intelligence engine from Cisco that is continually gaining and sharing threat insights globally.  The engine is continually looking for patterns, similarities to generate threat scores.  Some threats are automatically blocked, but NRL also can set the level of filters as well as manually block/unblock certain websites and applications.  This is particularly valuable for NRL since, unlike some organisations, they need to provide access to gambling sites, an important part of the Rugby League ecosystem.  

NRL uses Umbrella to generate daily reports where any issues can be prioritised and actioned.  A key benefit of Umbrella is the benefit to manage by exception.  The reports are also powerful for communicating with stakeholders.

“Implementing Umbrella was a quick win for us. It is a complete product and has given us peace of mind. Umbrella allows us to block malicious software, sites, malicious IP addresses while providing information gathering on rogue DNS servers, diagnosing, generating reports, and providing alerts. Umbrella works in the background with minimal resourcing required by the IT team.” Isaac Ibarra

NRL also uses Cisco networking infrastructure and promotes collaboration across the organisation with Cisco Webex.

“Often, security is seen as a defensive function, but we like to think of it differently. Umbrella is proactive in that it provides our staff secure access to the Internet and cloud applications to do their jobs effectively”. Isaac Ibarra

During a consulting phase, using Gap Analysis methodology, Kytec was able to strengthen the NRL’s network security with a few recommendations.  A PoC (Proof of Concept) for Cisco Umbrella was established and later implemented as the preferred solution.

“Kytec & Telstra has been valuable partners who have helped design & develop the NRL network over the years. They understand our requirements and focus on what is important to the NRL. For us, relationships are all about trust.”