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Higher Education at Risk for these 6 Cybersecurity Challenges

Bryan Reed Oct. 26, 2017
Every industry has its cybersecurity challenges, and higher education is no exception. Universities and colleges must balance information protection with user security – and in many cases, that includes giving thousands of students and faculty access to different parts of their network.

In other words, IT professionals who work in higher education must be aware of the special cybersecurity challenges that colleges and universities face. Using that information, they can then take steps to protect the institutions they work for.

With that in mind, here are six cybersecurity challenges that all institutions of higher learning must guard against.

#1: Lack of User Education

It might seem ironic that a lack of education should top our list of cybersecurity threats for higher education, but it’s a byproduct of the overloaded schedules common to both students and staff.

With thousands of users having at least partial access to your network, it’s important to make time to educate all users about how they contribute to your cybersecurity efforts.

#2: Phishing

Email is still an effective way for hackers to access a network. All they need is one unsuspecting or careless user to click a phishing link to do significant damage. In fact, research shows that one-third of all users opened a malicious email in 2016.

Here again, education and awareness play a role. In addition to having robust spam filters and anti-virus software, it’s essential to educate all users about how to identify phishing links.

#3: Not Prioritizing Cybersecurity

It’s common for universities to allocate their time and money based on their priorities. Unfortunately, that sometimes means that cybersecurity takes a back seat to other things.

CIOs and IT managers in higher education must make it clear that cybersecurity failures can be both costly and disruptive. Updating hardware and software and running regular backups can ensure the safety of critical networks and information.

#4: Identity and Access Management

Institutes of higher learning have access challenges that don’t apply to other industries. It’s traditional for colleges to provide students with email addresses and access to selected areas of their networks – and unless there are procedures in place to protect them, this widespread access may put the entire network at risk.

Requiring secure passwords and limiting students’ access to sensitive areas can help maintain security even when thousands of users are using your network. It’s also a good idea to put penalties in place for users who share their IDs with others or demonstrate carelessness. Access should be a privilege, not a right.


#5: Unsecured Personal Devices

It wasn’t that long ago that it was rare for students to bring personal electronic devices to school with them. Today, it’s a safe bet that every student has a smartphone, tablet, or laptop – and some may have all three.

If you have an open Wi-Fi network – even one that’s password protected – you’ll have to be very careful to safeguard against the risks posed by having unsecured devices on your network.

#6: Governance of Data Security

Some colleges and universities have centralized systems, but others do not. When individual departments have separate networks, the cybersecurity risks become difficult to contain.

Any school with a decentralized system must safeguard against breaches. Ideally, full centralization should be implemented to allow for full governance and maximum security.

The Solution

The way to meet these cybersecurity challenges for higher education is to combine a proactive approach with user education and training. When institutions share information with one another, it can help the entire industry to protect itself.

To learn about Alphanumeric’s IT solutions for education, please click here.


Bryan Reed

Bryan Reed is the Marketing and Communications Director at Alphanumeric.

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