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Hurricanes and Hackers: How to Mitigate Higher Education Cyber Risks

Bryan Reed Dec. 20, 2018

In the world of higher education, there are some unique cyber risks. The confluence of students, faculty, and community members combined with valuable research and data represents a real security challenge. And, when you combine the risk of data theft with the risk from natural disasters, like Hurricanes Florence and Michael, it’s clear there’s a need to mitigate the risks as much as possible.

At Alphanumeric, we work closely with our higher education clients to help them manage their cyber risks. Here's what we recommend in order to protect your campus from hurricanes and hackers.

Protection from Disasters

There’s no way to prevent natural disasters, but you can take steps to protect your data and infrastructure in the event that a hurricane or other disaster hits your school. Here are some suggestions:

  • Create and maintain a reliable backup system to preserve your most important data. Ideally, you should use a backup system that either stores your data in the cloud or to a secure off-site facility..
  • Train employees so they know how to remove their hard drives if you need to evacuate the premises. Removing the hard drives will preserve any data that hasn’t yet been backed up, so even if the computers themselves are destroyed you will still have your data and files.
  • Create a disaster recovery plan. Your plan should include the details of who needs to work in the aftermath of a natural disaster, as well as instructions for recovering data.

Of course, you should also take any warnings regarding an impending disaster seriously. If you must evacuate in the middle of the day, for example, you should know how to quickly create a manual backup of the day’s work. Keep in mind, though, that your top priority should be safety. Don’t stay to create a backup if it puts you or anybody else in danger.

Protection from Hackers

Just like natural disasters, hackers can strike at any time. In fact, natural disasters often encourage cyber criminals, who look to exploit the confusion caused by the event. Some community colleges in North Carolina, for instance, reported a thousand-fold increase in phishing attempts in the wake of Hurricane Florence. While colleges and universities might not seem to be ideal targets for hackers, the fact is you likely store personal and financial information for students and staffers. That might prove to be too great a temptation.

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The key, then, is to put protections in place to make it difficult for hackers to steal your data. Your protections should include:

  • Reliable anti-virus and anti-malware software that is regularly updated and installed on any computer or device that connects to your server.
  • A least access system that limits access to your most sensitive and valuable data to only the people who need it for their work. Minimizing access also minimizes the risk that an unauthorized person will be able to break through your defenses.
  • Password protect your Wifi. Many college campuses have open Wifi for students to use. Adding password protection won’t eliminate the risk from hackers, but it does add a layer of protection that may dissuade some people from trying to access your network.
  • Create BYOD and BYOA policies for staffers and students. You probably can’t stop people from using personal devices and apps on your network. However, you can put some guidelines in place. For example, you might ask students not to connect to your network using a smartphone or tablet without virus protection.
  • Educate everybody who uses your network about the risks to your data. It may be helpful to have a written cyber security policy that you distribute.

Cyber security must be a priority if you want to protect your data and network. It’s not safe to assume that hackers won’t target you.

It’s impossible to avoid all cyber risks but implementing the protocol we’ve outlined here can minimize your risk and help you keep your data safe.

Need help securing your data? Click here to learn what Alphanumeric can do for you.

Bryan Reed

Bryan Reed is the Marketing and Communications Director at Alphanumeric.

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