The recent outbreak of damaging security breaches isn’t just launching a wave of concern for businesses. Educational institutions are also starting to feel the pressure to make sure their own network security measures are in order. And just like businesses that have remained on alert after the recent breaches suffered by major corporations like Target and Home Depot, schools and universities have their own examples to point to as a word of warning. In just the past few years, Stanford and Emory University became victims of cyber attacks. The University of Maryland was targeted by hackers, who gained access to upwards of 300,000 personal records, some of them containing social security numbers. The Kentucky Department of Education also suffered a DDoS attack. Those are just a few of many examples. The message from these attacks is clear -- schools need to work hard to improve their network security. Luckily, many of them are doing just that.
To improve overall network security and thwart hackers, many schools and universities have a number of formidable obstacles to overcome. One of the most difficult to tackle is the fact that schools have to account for a wide variety of users who need access to their networks. Students need to open their school-affiliated emails or turn in term papers online, administrators need to work with confidential student records, and professors and assistants need to collaborate with colleagues and work with students. Some public school districts even allow parents access to the network to see how their children are doing. In addition to managing multiple different users, schools have to contend with the growing popularity of bring your own device (BYOD), which introduces a host of new endpoints using the network, some which might not be properly protected. Combine all of that with allowing remote access as one of the benefits of cloud computing, and it’s clear IT security teams have a handful of challenges to work with.
As difficult as the evolving online educational environment is becoming for protecting students and staff, schools are still finding solutions to these problems. One way they’re trying to improve network security is simply by asking for additional funding from government. Recently, the Utah System of Higher Education asked state legislators to provide an extra $2.1 million in funding as a way to combat future network security threats. The goal is to use the money to upgrade the state’s universities’ hardware, giving it added capabilities in dealing with cyber attacks. The extra funds would also be used to hire additional staff, giving the Utah System of Higher Education the crews needed to respond to security needs as they arise.
Schools are also partnering with IT companies as a way to boost their network security capabilities. Educational facilities, particularly those with limited budgets, tend to not have the resources necessary to meet the ever-changing demands of IT security. Companies that specialize in the topic are providing valuable expertise, giving schools advice on where and what they need to improve. Making the latest network security software available can also help tremendously.
With extra funding and the right expertise, schools are trying to fight against the growing wave of cyber attacks aimed at them. These added tools can help educational institutions identify where they are the weakest, thus giving them advanced warning on where they might be attacked. The offered security tools can also help simplify school networks, eliminating the redundancies that make it more difficult to monitor for threats. These steps can particularly improve response times when attacks do happen, making for minimal damages and more protected records.
With the rise of cyber attacks around the world, it’s more important than ever for schools to work on improving their network security and to understand what is cloud computing. Many institutions have already taken some significant steps in this regard, but more improvement can always help, especially when hacker tactics appear to change almost every day. Protecting student records and providing a safe environment for students and staff should be every school’s priority. The harsh reality is that cyber attacks will likely never go away. Schools should look to those organizations that have already taken the necessary steps to improve their IT security and seek to imitate them. Schools are too often viewed as an easy target, so now is the time to change that.