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Universities continue to struggle with cybersecurity

Colleges and universities have some of the most dynamic and diverse populations. Students, researchers, professors and guest lecturers from all over the world gather and collaborate in these academic environments, which regularly support tens of thousands of people. This high population undoubtedly requires a sturdy network of computers and ample bandwidth to accommodate the high volume of users at any given time. Furthermore, certain factors that are unique to universities create IT issues that other institutions may not have to deal with. Among these, is a cyber threat landscape that is extremely difficult to defend against.

More users means more gateways

Universities have long been scrutinized for their ability to keep campus networks secure. For example, a 2014 study conducted by BitSight Technologies revealed that higher-learning institutions were struggling with cybersecurity.

Part of the problem with securing a university environment is the fact there are so many different users accessing a multitude of websites and downloading documents from personal email accounts. These users may include students, prospective students, faculty, staff and guests, and their behavior on the Web can vary significantly, especially if a system is being leveraged for personal use.

Heightened cybersecurity is not necessarily the answer

Another hurdle with securing a campus network is the fact that academic resources need to be easily accessible for students on multiple devices. This means that in a university setting, there is, in fact, often such a thing as too much cybersecurity. Beefing of preventative measures might not be the best answer in all academic situations, as pointed out in a recent article published in The Atlantic.

Campus IT departments have therefore found themselves in a bit of a pickle. It is not in their best interest to create more stringent cybersecurity that blocks out new devices and possibly prevents students and faculty from sharing information as needed. Likewise, campus computer labs cannot be infused with overly-Draconian cybersecurity measures, as students and faculty need open access to a breadth online resources. Blocking Web destinations that can lead to harmful sites, such as social media, might inhibit marketing students from completing to work on a social media management course project that requires regularly updating an experimental Twitter feed or Facebook account, for example. Likewise, creating strict download regulations may prevent students from accessing certain documents, spreadsheets or other downloadable information needed for academic purposes.

Computer lab management software can help

MJohn Charles, vice president for information systems and technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told The Atlantic that creating more controls for students on the campus network is not necessarily the right solution in all circumstances. However, Charles did cite the ability to recover quickly from an attack as a potential avenue for creating a safer virtual environment for students and faculty.

One example of a solution that may provide layered security – at least for campus computer labs – is computer management software. Rather than just putting stricter controls in place, system administrators would be able to monitor systems more efficiently. The ability to gather user data, for example, can help preemptively identify potential sources of cyber threats, and can make it easier for campus IT departments to address these issues as needed. The goal here is not to solely police computer labs, but rather to obtain a more panoramic understanding of threat vectors introduced by users.

Likewise, regular maintenance and oversight of computers helps keep systems, and the network, clean. A system restore used to be an involved, somewhat time-consuming process, but reboot to restore capabilities make it possible to re-image a machine simply be restarting it.

Another tactical approach to layered security is streamlining the process by which software is patched. Frequently used software such as Flash and Java release periodic updates, and many of these patches may be in response to new security exploits. As such, it is important for campus computer software to be well-maintained. A cloud-based software update tool can help system administrators automate these patching processes.

Preventative cybersecurity will always be necessary, but layered security centered on reboot to restore technology can only be achieved through a more comprehensive approach to system management. The answer for universities that have found themselves in the midst of a cyberwar is not thicker armor, but rather, a more comprehensive maintenance strategy. And this exactly what computer lab management software can supply for system administrators.

About The Author

Suzannah Hastings

Suzannah is interested in all things digital, from software security to the latest technological advances. She writes about ways in which the increasingly internet-driven landscape and windows technologies like steady state alternative that change our lives, and what we can expect in the future.

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