4 min read  | Higher Education

How to create a holistic cybersecurity strategy for your higher education institution

The mass adoption of e-learning, while a trend of necessity, is the most radical change we’ve seen in the higher education sector in the recent past. It has transformed, fundamentally, the value these institutions provide to their students and society at large. Learning is now more affordable, accessible and convenient. 

With great power, though, comes great responsibility—and a few problems to boot.

While the increased adoption of e-learning has helped many institutions educate their students remotely, it has also presented a problem. The technology is great, but now, we’re more vulnerable than ever to cyber attacks.

Cyber attacks are by no means a new threat. The volume of attacks, however, has increased dramatically over the last year. Unfortunately, most educational institutions are still struggling to find more effective and sustainable ways to deal with these threats, even a year after the onset of the pandemic.

The phishing attack on RMIT University in February, for example, is a clear indication of the kind of risks higher education institutions face.

Fortunately, there is light at the end of the tunnel. 

A holistic cybersecurity strategy is the most effective solution for fending off the risks your institution may be facing. In this post, we explore the importance of this and what you need to consider when creating your own. 

Why is a holistic cybersecurity strategy important?

Universities, colleges and other educational institutions manage and store critical information like student identification details, intellectual property information, and research data. As we’ve seen, if any attack compromises the integrity of these resources, it has far-reaching consequences, even beyond the boundaries of that institution.

The most worrying fact is that the majority of these attacks are the results of human error. According to IBM, over 95% of cyber attacks can be attributed to the actions of the people who work in our organisations.

Any effective cybersecurity strategy you create, therefore, must be two-pronged in nature. 

It should address human errors and biases as well as the limitations of your infrastructure. Remember, here, that this is not a simple or one-and-done process—it needs to account for the reality of your operations and the specific threats you and your stakeholders face. 

Once you get to the finish line, however, you need to look into effective deployment.

Create a holistic cybersecurity strategy for higher education institutions

While not a complete list, here are some of the main factors to consider when you’re creating your security controls and plans.

  • To address the human elements of your cybersecurity strategy, few activities are as effective as security awareness and training. This doesn’t just include your staff, though—you need to make sure you include your students and anyone who has access to your systems too.

In this process, make sure you’re educating them about cyber attacks and how to identify these. These programs should be conducted regularly to ensure your knowledge of security threats is up to date and you’re following the latest best practices.

  • In terms of your cybersecurity infrastructure, an initial evaluation of your existing security strategy will reveal potential risks and vulnerabilities in your network and your systems. Identifying these can help you create more effective security protocols to combat cybersecurity threats.

  • Next, you need to work on identifying security threats that affect your institution and rectify these threats with the resources you have in hand. Here, make sure that the security controls you’re using comply with cybersecurity and other relevant industry regulations.

  • Student and staff emails are one of the weakest points in any network and should be considered a high priority when you’re creating security controls. Installing an email filter, among other strategies, reduces the risk of phishing attacks drastically.

  • Another tactic to consider is launching an effective access control programme that restricts certain users from accessing all the data in your network. It also restricts access for hackers in the event of a data breach.

  • After implementing all the relevant risk controls, you need to be monitoring your network continuously to ensure regulatory compliance and that you’re on top of any risks or vulnerabilities that arise.

Protect your students, staff, and resources with a holistic, up-to-date cybersecurity strategy 

COVID-19 has forced many, if not all, higher education institutes to adopt digital learning platforms to provide uninterrupted education during social distancing. While necessary, this wide-scale migration to online spaces has also increased our vulnerability to cyber attacks.

Deploy a holistic cybersecurity strategy to protect your data and resources against the spate of attacks targeted at educational institutions that are working online.