Posted: 3 Min ReadFeature Stories

How Williams Racing Kept It Going Virtually Despite the COVID-19 Shutdown

Thanks to its long collaboration with Symantec Enterprise, the storied racing brand was ready for the security challenges of shifting to a remote workforce

Williams Racing engineers and team members had arrived in Melbourne in mid-March, eager to compete in the Australian Grand Prix, an annual event that marks the first round of the Formula One World Championship.

Then everything turned upside down. For Williams - as well as for the rest of the world.

As this was “pre-pandemic” race organizers had implemented a number of precautionary and preventative measures in place for everyone around the paddock, and so when some began testing positive for COVID-19 it became clear that more needed to be done. Soon after, all teams and the race organizers came to an agreement and announced the cancellation of the race as a health precaution, and to postpone the start of the 2020 season.

The Williams team packed up and returned to the UK where the company headquarters was in the midst of shutting down its offices in response to the coronavirus.  Like so many other organizations, the Williams workplace would now only be connected over the internet. That presented any number of new logistical and organizational challenges, but as CIO Graeme Hackland later recalled, cyber security would not be one of them.

“We were ready, “he said. “For us, it was just a question of scale.”

Securing the Remote Endpoint

The story goes back to 2014 when Hackland was hired with a mandate to engineer the digital transformation of this legendary Formula 1 brand. As part of his planned overhaul of the company’s IT infrastructure, Hackland also had to make sure that Williams’ increasingly mobile employees were able to connect to the company’s network securely.

This was a paramount concern. The company’s race teams and engineers regularly traveled around the globe. Indeed, long before the COVID-19 outbreak, up to 60% of Williams’ staff could be found working on the outside. But employees could only use company-issued computers to gain network access. 

Hackland was able to rely on Symantec for assistance, and found it through a combination of Symantec CASB CloudSOC - recently implemented to secure Williams' principal cloud collaboration tool (Microsoft Office365) - and SEP Mobile, which he had recently deployed throughout the organization.

So when Williams modified its policy to allow personnel to use their personal devices, Hackland needed a solution that would protect data, no matter where it was - whether in motion, whether sitting somewhere in the cloud, or whether on someone's machine. Hackland was able to rely on Symantec, a division of Broadcom (NASDAQ: AVGO), for assistance, and found it through a combination of Symantec CASB CloudSOC - recently implemented to secure Williams' principal cloud collaboration tool (Microsoft Office365) - and SEP Mobile, which he had recently deployed throughout the organization. These two critical security solutions, as part of Williams’ adoption of Integrated Cyber Defense, meant Williams’ data was now protected across a myriad of endpoints - including virtual machines as well as the cloud - and would allow anyone at the company to securely access and send data no matter their location, no matter their device.

“The challenge was how to make sure that the person accessing the network really is who they say they are,” Hackland said. “We needed to know whether an employee’s account has been compromised. And once someone has accessed their data, we need to ensure that they don't use that information inappropriately.”

Passing the Test

The experiment was put to the test with the COVID-19 shutdown as Williams was forced to send a thousand people home and make sure they were equipped to work securely.

"Everything happened extremely quickly, and as a result, the IT group had to deal with a flood of people who were now being asked to work from home," said Al Peasland, Head of Technical and Innovation Partnerships at Williams Racing. "For a lot of our team, working from home and signing into company networks remotely was a new experience. Graeme's group, with the support of Symantec, had to act fast and did an amazing job at making sure our infrastructure was safe, secure and fit for purpose, whilst also acting as a first line of support for the users when they required it."

But all of Williams’ prior work securing its endpoints paid off when it was time to make the pivot to mobile.

“When the health emergency got declared, we were prepared,” Hackland said. “To be sure, we had never attempted anything on this scale and that was a challenge. But we ramped up using the existing systems and security structure we created so that every single employee was able to telecommute from their homes in a very short amount of time. We would have been in huge trouble without Symantec. I think that what we've done with Symantec turned out to be a real success.”

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About the Author

Richard Clooke

Head of Customer Programs, Symantec Enterprise Division

Richard heads up Customer Programs for Symantec Enterprise, with responsibility for harnessing customer sentiment, delivering global events, and driving meaningful engagement among Symantec’s advocate community.

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