In order to spread knowledge to a larger group of people, educational institutions are increasingly adopting information technology to promote online courses and interactive ways of learning. IT is, therefore, being recognized by the management teams in institutions as tools that enable better and more effective administration, and sustain business growth. While this has had positive impacts, it has also exposed institutional and personal data to cyber-attacks. As most educational institutions do not tend to have comprehensive security systems in place, they become easy target for cyber criminals.
Every day, thousands of students log on to their college or university network to access information related to courses, classes, exam schedules, important dates, results, and fee payment. They login using their personal devices – laptop, desktop, smartphone, or tablets. Any lapse of security in these devices can easily infect the network. Not only that, removable drives are being used to launch numerous attacks internally into an institutions grid. Viruses, worms, and other content-based threats and malware from within the private network spread rapidly and are being used by cybercriminals to hack. Incidentally, detecting content-based attacks has become more difficult than connection-based attacks.
So, what is it that motivates hackers to launch such malicious attacks?
Student records, employment records, medical records, examination records, and research by faculty and students, hold volumes of sensitive data which, if stolen, can damage an institution’s reputation irrevocably. Imagine a scenario where a hacker steals private data of an institution wiping their servers clean of information. What will the institution do when the theft is discovered? How will day-to-day operations and other tasks related to students’ academics and future be performed? Will it lead to an absolute collapse of the entire system?
Major Risks to Educational Institutions
- Data Security Risk - Unauthorised access can lead to loss of proprietary data like patents, research, etc.
- Financial Risk - Hackers can access personal and financial information of students, faculty, and staff causing financial loss.
- Reputation Risk - Security breach could severely undermine the confidence of institutions in the society.
The chaos that will ensue in such a scenario is unimaginable but highly avoidable. Addressing them is the key for maintaining a robust security. Some of the major check points for these establishments to ensure a sound security system are:
- Physical security - Secure desktops, servers, and other IT devices from physical damage caused by acts of omission and commission.
- Access control- Restrict access to the main data center by controlling and monitoring user actions.
- Authentication - Implement IT security policy to verify, identify, and authenticate users and devices.
- Maintain inventory of devices - Monitor all devices within the network.
- Securing remote access - Secure all remote access through Virtual Private Network (VPN).
- Secure endpoints: Secure systems for endpoints like desktops, laptops, copiers, and printers.
Today, there are numerous solutions available in the market to filter inappropriate content, eliminate viruses, detect network intrusions, and other such security feature. But the cost of purchasing the licenses to use multiple security features, also mandates a team of security controls. This could be a costly affair and out of reach for most institutions. It involves not only administrators and IT executives to maintain them, but may also include inconsistency in institutional security policy, compatibility of devices and programs, and communication gap among vendors leading to long issue resolution time. Instead, institutions can install hardware that houses all the necessary security features with the convenience of monitoring and tracking from a single consolidated screen. An integrated Unified Threat Management (UTM) solution, thus, replaces multiple security programs while being easy-to-use and affordable for all kinds of institutions. Some of the key features of UTM include:
- Gateway antivirus: A feature that scans incoming traffic and prevents threats from reaching an institution’s private network.
- Intrusion detection and prevention system: This feature monitors computers and network for any kind of threat, weaknesses, or intrusion by unwanted programs. On detection, it attempts to block it and alert the system administrator.
- Malware protection: This feature protects the network from malicious software that covertly steals or passes sensitive or private information to a third party. The source of these malwares can sometime be genuine software, too.
- Virtual private network: This feature allows students and faculty to safely connect to the institution’s network without any incidence of threats, thereby promoting collaboration.
- Content filtering: This feature empowers the administrators to allow and restrict access to content/websites centrally. This prevents a user, while in the network, from accessing unapproved content, thereby ensuring compliance with organizational Internet policy.
By installing an integrated UTM solution to manage your institutional network and user security, you can help attain real-time protection. The solution provides value for money spent and easy scalability and flexibility of operations without affecting the institution’s business. In short, UTM can provide educational institutions with a complete package of security features, which they can simply plug-and-play.