There isn’t any question that cyber attacks on higher education are on the rise. Just take a look at the latest headlines whether it is the phishing attack upon students of Lancaster University or where they received fake invoices or 4,400 student records that were breached at the University of York. Not to mention the Louisiana governor declaring a state of emergency after multiple school systems fell victim to a coordinated cyber attack.

Why is higher education cyber security necessary? It seems that the finance sector would be the more obvious target, but there are quite a few reasons why universities make for an intriguing target. For instance, many colleges do not have adequate cyber security controls in place for the thousands of devices students use to access the institution’s networks. As a result, hackers have thousands of potential points of entry.

Next, every institution today offers high-speed Internet services for their enrolled students which cyber criminals can use to act as a connection source for their planned attacks. More importantly, universities have massive databases of student and staff records ranging from financial to personal and R&D. In conjunction with the fact that many colleges do not have extensive cyber security protocols in place make them even more enticing for hackers. The stolen data can be used for fraudulent activities and can also be sold on the dark web.

It’s not just about the money

Many institutions engage in research initiatives subsidized by both donors and government entities. As a result, cyber thieves can be motivated either by theft of this cutting-edge research or destruction and manipulation for geopolitical reasons. Some attacks can be both financially motivated and state-sponsored.

Some of the most serious phishing attacks have been state-sponsored where it appears the threat actors did their detective work and knew just how to word their messages to attract a larger number of victims such as the example where cyber criminals pretended to work for Cambridge University which then gained trust so that the victims willingly opened malicious files. It turns out the attack was orchestrated by an Iranian-linked group called APT34. However, they pushed their phishing campaign over LinkedIn by pretending to be an employee named Rebecca Watts who was supposedly part of the “Research Staff at the University of Cambridge.” She shared malicious documents that were disguised as “job opportunities.”

This is just one scenario where cyber criminals used the authoritative position of a well-respected university to attract unknowing victims.

Which cyber threats are the most prominent in higher education?

One of the most popular forms of cyber attacks on universities is via ransomware. In fact, ransomware kits are sold on the dark web which make it easy enough for anyone to target a victim whether it’s for a personal or financial reason or otherwise. The only way to thwart these, and other types of data breaches, is with good higher education cyber security.

Yet, phishing still ranks at the top for how cyber attacks are deployed. And, due to the COVID pandemic, many classes will be held virtually which is proving to be attractive for cyber thieves. The cyber criminal does not need knowledge of advanced coding or network penetration to get in – all they need is the right message from a trusted source.

Phishing is one of the most basic forms of cyber threats and also the most successful. All it takes is one victim to click on a malicious file to open the gateway for attackers to infiltrate college systems and databases. So then, it is crucial for universities to train both staff and students on how to determine when an email, voicemail, or social media message is genuine or not.

Mitigate the threat surface

Many institutions run a complicated stack of legacy and newer systems. Further, they have to support a network of devices used personally by students and faculty which vary from mobile phones to laptops. It’s almost impossible to protect every single digital asset.

Also, it’s important for higher education cyber security to implement a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) threat solution that can actively monitor the network and its connected devices. SSI offers solutions that streamlines the provisioning process while reducing both identity-related risks and the overall threat surface.

Manage rising IT costs

This article details the significance of improving your cyber security posture in the digital era. Nonetheless, many institutions do not have large budgets so their response to attacks are often more reactive than they are proactive. Moreover, the costs of hiring and retaining competent and full-time IT security staff can run into the millions annually depending on the size of the university – and this does not take into account the costs of physical hardware, software licenses, and system maintenance costs.

Invariably, it is also challenging for security staff to keep apprised of the latest solutions that will ensure continued cyber security protection. On the other hand, SSI solutions for higher education cyber security takes a broad view of your network, monitoring risk, devices, and vulnerabilities so that you don’t have to juggle multiple vendors.

Unquestionably, higher education must comprehend that they too are a target for cyber criminals and must respond proactively by implementing comprehensive cyber security measures to protect the institution, the employees, the students, and their reputation.

In conclusion

Higher education in the modern world needs advanced cyber security solutions that can address the evolving requirements of maintaining data security, mitigate the risk of data breaches, and comprehensively meet increasing compliance mandates. Only by monitoring these areas can colleges and universities successfully move forward with their objective of teaching and research, especially as the digital threat landscape grows larger and more sophisticated.

With higher education cyber security solutions from SSI, any institution will feel empowered by instituting carefully selected systems that prioritize their most critical vulnerabilities and effectively mitigate risks while ensuring all compliance regulations are met.