Ascendium Education Group, Inc.® contracts Mandiant MDR Services to gain peace of mind, expertise and cost savings

Strategic choices pay off during data center build


Financial services not-for-profit decided to outsource its SOC

In 2018, Ascendium Education Group built a new data center—but did not create an in-house SOC. Instead, Ascendium contracted with Mandiant Managed Defense. The results: cost savings, time savings and the peace of mind that comes from working with top-notch security talent.


Cost savings, compared to costs of staffing in-house SOC


Time needed to hire and train SOC engineers and analysts


In-house talent can focus on business and innovation


Building a SOC following the-sale of its affiliate

Ascendium Education Group, headquartered in Madison, Wisconsin, was founded in 1967 as Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation. After selling its student loan servicing affiliate in 2018, the organization changed its name and continued its work as a not-for-profit federal student loan guarantor and philanthropist.

As part of the sale agreement, the purchaser acquired the original firm’s IT infrastructure, including its security resources. Ascendium, while retaining interim use of that infrastructure, began planning a new data center and tapped Alex Hammond, Senior Security Engineer, to head up its security operations center (SOC).

This SOC was tasked to protect Ascendium’s operations and the sensitive financial and personal data it manages on behalf of the 1.9 million student loan borrowers in its portfolio.

But Hammond was asked to use third-party security resources rather than fully staff with in-house expertise.


Tailored MDR for smart security outsourcing

After evaluating several security services vendors, Hammond selected Mandiant Managed Defense as the best fit for Ascendium’s needs.

Hammond felt he could trust Mandiant to provide best-in-class services, based on the company’s reputation and demonstrated depth and breadth of insight into threat actors and the threat landscape. “Including Mandiant in our evaluation was a no-brainer,” Hammond says.

Most vendors positioned themselves as end-to-end managed security services providers. But Ascendium didn’t want or need that; the company was still leveraging legacy IT resources. Setting itself apart, Mandiant offered a selection of cost-efficient managed detection and response (MDR) services. Mandiant enabled Ascendium to handle aspects of its security, such as firewalls, access control and anti-malware software with any resources it desired.

“Mandiant watches the threat landscape, detects ‘the bad things,’ and responds to them—and that’s what Ascendium needs.”

               —Alex Hammond, Senior Security Engineer, Ascendium Education Group


Peace of mind—with considerable savings

Engaging Mandiant Managed Defense cost Ascendium ten times less than it would have to fully staff a SOC team. Ascendium also avoided the overhead associated with hiring in-house security professionals, complicated by the competition for security talent in their industry.

Ascendium also eliminated the time and cost to train SOC staff. “If we’d decided to build an in-house security team, I’d be a full-time trainer,” Hammond explains.

The Mandiant team’s expertise frees Ascendium from needing to do its own time-consuming research on emerging threats and threat vectors. “If something new pops up, we toss it to Mandiant and they tell us whether we need to do anything to be protected,” Hammond says. “We don’t have to invest our time in knowing everything about every strain of malware.”

As a result, Ascendium can focus attention and resources on other priorities, such as driving improvements in its data center technology and processes.

Ascendium knows that Mandiant supports other companies and can leverage what it learns globally to help protect Ascendium. “We’re not a big fish in the financial services market, but we know that we’re benefiting from the experiences of other financial services firms.” Hammond concludes. “For us, that’s the biggest return on our Mandiant investment.”

“We would have needed to hire at least three senior engineers and two analysts. It would have cost 10 times what we pay for our Mandiant SOC.”

               —Alex Hammond, Senior Security Engineer, Ascendium Education Group

A federal student loan guarantor that supports education and training

Ascendium Education Group, Inc.® a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, is a leading postsecondary education philanthropy and provider of student success services for postsecondary institutions and the nation’s largest federal student loan guarantor.

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