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Keeping an Open Network While Maintaining Security in Higher Education is Not Child’s Play

The Internet and college campuses just seem to “go together.” Considering the fact that the Internet developed on university campuses, along with the high volume of online communications and study materials in higher education, it is essential that college students have easy and safe access to a secure and stable network. Such a vast and danger-riddled course, however, rarely runs smooth for the university IT department when trying to main network security in such an open operating environment.

No matter how small or large your higher learning institution, you likely face a unique set of challenges. In a small college, you probably need to make a few departmental sacrifices to adhere to a tight budget. For larger universities that feature vast resources, your IT department is responsible for shepherding a massive, tech-savvy student body, as well as a constantly rotating roster of campus visitors who want to learn the guest Wi-Fi login procedure for the school’s public network as quickly as possible.

Data Breaches Happen in Higher Learning Institutions More Than You Might Realize

While the Sony and Home Depot hacks were all over the news in 2014, there were also 30 educational institutions that experienced data breaches in the same time frame. Five of those 30 schools suffered greater breaches than Sony due to malware attacks and data hacks, but outside of academia or information technology, most people might not have heard anything about it.

All of these data intrusions were serious, leaving over 800,000 students exposed and vulnerable to identity theft since, in many of the top five data breaches of 2014, the data breaches yielded their names, birth dates, addresses, driver’s license numbers, student identification numbers, and social security numbers. Additionally, in some cases, the data in these breaches extended back to 1998, leaving students long-graduated exposed. Cyber-crime continues to increase at higher institutions since cyber-thieves see the educational area as a lucrative market now and in the future.

Higher Education Security

What Factors Must You Consider When Guarding Your Higher Learning Institution’s Network Security?

A CIO’s responsibilities at the collegiate level are fairly staggering, considering all the population sectors—including students, faculty and staff—the different types of devices, remote access, and the storage placement you use, whether on-site or in the cloud.

The Various Populations That Use Your University’s Network

Your student body and educators probably take up the greatest part of your network usage. With students, you must account for those living in dormitories and those working remotely from home off-campus, working and playing around-the-clock. Your job managing your student body is your largest responsibility, by far.

Similarly, your educators make great use of your network, although they are more likely to relegate their network usage solely to work tasks, including Internet research and email correspondence.

Your staff may comprise adjunct teachers, teaching assistants, administrative professionals, custodial workers, security officers, and more. Not everyone in this group will have access to your school’s network, but it is important to make sure you know who has access and their level of security.

You may manage a secondary guest network for visitors on your campus. This practice may work better at larger universities that regularly host large-scale conferences and football games that attract thousands of alumni on a weekend, or anything that attracts Wi-Fi users who are not privy to or bound by your learning institution’s information security policy. With this segregation of networks, you can please welcome guests by letting them easily sign onto their tablets to check emails while keeping your proprietary data safe from malware attacks and other potential data breaches.

The Most Prevalent Devices You Need to Consider in Higher Institution Network Security

Knowing all the possible portals through which your university could potentially incur a data breach will help you when drawing up your information user policy, which is critical in keeping everyone on track who uses your internal university network where all the most sensitive data lives and breathes. Take stock of all the digital device possibilities, which include:

  • Desktops and laptops for both PC and Apple
  • Smartphones and tablets for both Android and iOS systems
  • Gaming consoles

Working from Home and During Travel Requires Network Access for Many Students, Staff and Faculty

The need—and often requirement—for remote access for the modern student, professor or administrator has become increasingly common. Many professors take working sabbaticals for a term, or more, and need continuous access to their files without visiting their office. Similarly, students may need to access their university email server to turn in a paper while away from school. Either way, you need to make remote access a part of your governance policy.

Network Security in the Cloud or On the College Campus

While many college IT leaders are opting for cloud-based data storage, others may consider it more cost-effective, and even safer for their needs, to keep their data on-site. Regardless of your choice, it is important to create clear policies to encourage each user population sector to protect data.

The Key to Network Security at Your Higher Education Institution is Governance

Even at the smallest college or university, you need to develop an in-depth, all-encompassing and actionable information security policy that all users must read and with which they must actively agree. With so much networking risk, you need to make sure that everyone is doing their part to keep data secure, for everyone’s benefit, including their own. Combined with regular staff, faculty and student training sessions, you can feel more confident about your school’s network security when creating a strong information security policy.

Reach Out to Professionals Who Can Help Flesh Out Your Information Security Policy

I.S. Partners, LLC. frequently works with various industries to help develop an information security policy for each client that addresses all of their networking concerns. Please reach out to us by calling 215-675-1400 or request a quote so we can help you build a strong manual of information security policies to avoid data breaches and malware attacks.

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