The higher education sector experiences some of the highest rates of cyber security incidents. Educational institutions have plenty of valuable data that makes them vulnerable to attacks. So how can they improve their cyber security measures?
Students enrolled at colleges and universities across the nation are not only getting a classroom education, they’re also learning a hard lesson in cyber security.
Higher education is the third-most breached sector, according to a Symantec report, accounting for 10 percent of all data breaches reported in 2015. Approximately 1.35 million identities were exposed during the incidents.
It’s not just student records that are subject to cyber crime, hackers are targeting faculty, staff and research centers in the university community.
Higher education institutions are prime targets because of their troves of valuable data. Everything from social security numbers, medical records, financial data, addresses, birth dates, and intellectual property are within a single system.
As a result, universities are being forced to step up their cyber security efforts and increase budgets to hire qualified information assurance professionals.
Education Sector Faces Cyber Attacks
Higher education has experienced several damaging cyber security breaches in recent years. Though some have involved identity theft for financial gain, others included denial of service attacks.
The University of Central Florida had one of the largest cyber attacks this year when the school announced hackers had compromised the university’s computer system and stole a variety of information, including social security numbers and ID numbers of approximately 63,000 students, alumni, faculty, and staff.
The University of Connecticut experienced a similar attack when it detected malware on the university’s servers, compromising social security numbers, employment information, credit card information, and research data from 2013 to 2015.
“The unfortunate reality is that these types of attacks are becoming more and more common, which requires us to be even more vigilant in protecting our university community,” said Michael Mundrane, CIO and vice provost of the University of Connecticut.
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Why Universities are Vulnerable to Cyber Crime
The open culture of higher education is one of the primary reasons why it’s susceptible to cyber crime. Universities encourage transparency, allowing students, donors, and the public to easily connect with them. That transparency can result in exposure.
Universities are unique in that they have different categories of people accessing their system for different purposes. While information assurance protocol may be established for staff, it’s difficult to ensure other community members are aware of the procedures.
Also, with so many students and faculty bringing personal mobile devices on campus, it’s difficult to ensure all those devices are secure.
Some higher education institutions may also have difficulty keeping up with the latest cyber security tools because of their limited resources and budget.
How Universities are Responding
While information assurance wasn’t always a priority, higher education leaders now see the need for it. According to EDUCAUSE, an association of higher education IT leaders, cyber security now ranks as the top issue for university IT departments.
“Our community has noted the importance of a strategy to promote and expand information security awareness and education. Information security is everyone’s responsibility,” said Peter Murray, CIO and vice president for Information Technology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. “We know that risks are reduced when information security becomes an integral part of an institution’s culture.”
One of the ways institutions are improving information assurance is sharing security information among each other. EDUCAUSE research found that universities that share breach information help reduce the number of stolen records.
Given that cyber security is a top priority for IT leaders, educational institutions are desperately looking for qualified information security professionals. As cyber security threats constantly evolve, professionals with the latest, advanced education can best meet the challenges this sector faces.
How do you think universities are dealing with the rising threat of cyber crime? Help dictate the direction higher education takes to prevent devastating data breaches by investing in your own skills development.