4 cybersecurity threats facing school IT

University networks are filled with   information that data thieves can profit from.

University networks are filled with information that data thieves can profit from.

Cybercrime has become one of the most pressing issues facing the global community. Last year, hackers cost consumers across the world $110 billion, disrupting key industries such as banks, utilities and even federal agencies. The issue has gotten so out of hand that President Barack Obama included it in his most recent State of the Union address and issued an executive order to increase American defenses.

Recently, several universities have been added to list of cybersecurity victims, leading many school IT teams to worry about network security. Sixty-one schools reported data breaches in 2012. All told, 2 million records ranging from student identification information to bank account numbers were compromised. In the first of a two-part look at school cybersecurity, we’ll take a look at what threats IT departments now face in cyberspace.

IT teams are concerned with four main areas of cybersecurity:

  1. Phishing: Sometimes students can be their own worst enemies. Hackers contact users pretending to be a legitimate site or organization, usually in an email or instant message, and get them to hand over account information. Phishers can use that to commit identity fraud or theft.
  2. Bring-your-own-device (BYOD): BYOD has been great for universities – for the most part. While these programs offer more flexibility for both professor and student, they also leave schools vulnerable to whatever weaknesses exist on students’ mobile devices. Hackers can exploit a connected student’s device to gain access to the larger network.
  3. Cloud: Cloud providers can help schools reduce their costs by outsourcing applications to offsite servers. But when universities give up that burden, they’re also handing over control to an outside company. This can create a whole host of issues if the provider doesn’t use strong security practices and could result in sensitive information getting out into the open.
  4. Data management: Universities are treasure troves of information for both students and hackers. We’ve already covered what data thieves can do with financial records and personal information, but they can also profit from health and academic data. The open, sharing nature of universities leaves a lot of this information vulnerable if a hacker gains access to a school’s classroom software.

For those most part, those are the heavy hitters in education cybercrime. IT teams certainly have their work cut out for them, but with the proper defenses, and sufficient funding, schools can keep most of these threats at bay. Next time, we’ll take a look at how IT teams are taking on cybercriminals and hackers.

Do you think cybercrime is being taken too seriously or not seriously enough? Is your network prepared to take on hackers? Tell us what you think in the comments section below or on our Facebook page!

Scott Cornell

When he’s not knee deep in blogging and all things tech, Scott spends his free time playing ultimate Frisbee and watching foreign films. An expert in emerging tech trends, Scott always has his ear to ground for breaking news related to IT security.