Tuesday 1 December, 2020

Higher education Institutions, a major cyberattack target

The proliferation of connectivity across the global network has had a series of positive impacts on higher education institutions thanks to both technological advances and the increasing number of connected devices. From cloud services to the Internet of Things (IoT), students and teachers can now stay connected even outside the classroom, enhancing learning and research opportunities.

This ongoing information exchange, however, has also led to an increase in cybercriminals targeting educational institutions. All information exchanged, whether it’s a student’s personal information or university research data, should be protected to safeguard institutional reputation.

Colleges and universities are typically densely-populated, highly collaborative environments. They require access to various online resources and publications to conduct research for assignments or create lesson plans—and they also need access to various applications and software solutions to record, present and share their findings. Furthermore, depending on both the school and department, the importance of accessing different applications and resources varies drastically.

Aside from supporting academic needs, higher-education IT teams also must build a wireless network (WLAN) that can support all the devices students use during their daily lives, such as smart TVs, wireless printers, mobile devices and more.

Building a wireless network with the bandwidth and capability to deal with such high amounts of traffic and varying priorities is a challenge in and of itself. It is not uncommon for colleges and universities to deploy hundreds or even thousands of access points across campuses to provide 24/7 Wi-Fi coverage.

This infrastructural challenge is further complicated when factoring in the security threats now associated with open networks in higher education. Today, university IT teams have to build WLAN infrastructures that offer strong connectivity with minimal restrictions and downtime, while simultaneously protecting users and data from current and evolving threats.

Colleges and universities have become high-value targets for cybercriminals because of the types of data they store. This does not just include information on enrolled students, but often extends to health, financial and personal information on faculty, staff, administrators and even applicants. Since 2005, higher education institutions have been the victims of 539 breaches, resulting in 13 million known compromised records. Schools are also at risk of hacks due to the housing of intellectual property from original research conducted in labs or other research facilities.

Secure architectures address the connectivity challenges plaguing universities today, such as coverage, reliability and ability to provide access to a large number of personal devices, while incorporating advanced cybersecurity solutions. Educational institutions in Latin America have already begun to successfully implement this type of secure access solution—the San Ignacio de Loyola School in Colombia and IFB Certus educational center in Peru are just two examples.

Technology use on university campuses continues to increase as students become more reliant on connected devices and applications in their academic and personal lives. At the same time, universities face more frequent and sophisticated cyberattacks from criminals seeking valuable personal data. Universities have to integrate their network access and security protocols to provide the scalability and visibility to keep up with students’ needs while protecting themselves from both current and future cyberthreats.

This article was written by Susan Biddle, senior marketing director for the education sector at Fortinet



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