Changes to education delivery have spurred a shift in norms for institutions. These modifications introduce potential threats to computer networks and the devices students and faculty use on them. Still, managing risk proactively offers effective protection for infrastructure and access points.
Safeguarding networks, data and devices is essential to operations, and new threats emerge almost daily. The challenges facing educational institutions and their students today center around creating a robust security posture to protect information and infrastructure from unauthorized access.
The shift to off-site working and learning was abrupt for many. While advanced technology facilitates access to organizational applications and resources, it poses network security issues by opening multiple pathways for a potential hack.
Using a virtual private network (VPN) mitigates this risk. VPNs offer end-to-end data encryption for additional information security and user privacy while retaining scalability and bandwidth capacity.
Educational institutions maintain large amounts of proprietary information, from personnel data to intellectual property, tempting hackers with the potential value of sale or ransom.
Institute the principle of least privilege based on user identity to keep information more secure. Under such policies, users can access only the tools and resources necessary for completing tasks related to their jobs or assignments.
When students and faculty access institutional infrastructure with personal devices, your organization has limited knowledge about the security of their devices and protective measures. This lack of control can lead to open doors for hackers.
Combine VPN usage with other safeguarding measures, such as web filtering, secondary equipment controls and firewalls to identify and eliminate threats. Encourage all users to install ransomware and antivirus software on any device used to access school resources to prevent endpoints from serving as an entryway for threat actors.
Phishing and other social engineering approaches represent sophisticated cyberattacks, with innocent-looking links or legitimate-appearing attachments to gather clicks. These tactics can introduce malware or capture keystrokes, exposing network infrastructure and data to harm.
The best countermeasure for phishing and social engineering is comprehensive training and testing. Educate users on spotting red flags and institute regular tests to assess understanding and compliance. In addition, robust email security protocols, white-or blocklisting and strict download policies for attachments originating outside the organization can defend your network.
With more users accessing network resources via mobile devices, the opportunity for infiltration multiplies tremendously. Some models also have specific security risks that can increase threat potential when misconfigured. Teach users which model-specific features are less than secure, and encourage them to outfit mobile devices with antivirus and ransomware tools for comprehensive protection.
Educational organizations can take several steps to increase security for workers, students and infrastructure.
Multifactor authentication (MFA) relies on proving user identity in two or more ways, essential for learners and staff accessing remotely, even on organization-owned devices.
Configure critical resources and applications to use MFA on each login attempt for maximum protection. For less-vital program use, MFA should appear anytime the network does not recognize a device or internet protocol (IP) address, when the security threat threshold is "medium" or higher and during all password changes or resets.
Endpoints must undergo consistent firmware updates to install the latest security patches and prevent threats from hitting the network and spreading laterally to other infrastructure and equipment. When access devices are school-owned, this process is easy to complete with forced update and reboot protocols. Yet, bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies present a challenge for endpoint control.
As part of a comprehensive BYOD policy, remind users to reboot weekly to scan for and install any updates. Doing so can prevent many threats for staff and students working primarily in web-based applications since browsers will automatically update during the process. For a more robust security posture, consider purchasing a volume license for antivirus and ransomware protection and encourage users to take advantage of discounted pricing.
One powerful defense technique educational institutions can employ is routine tabletop exercises. Testing user comprehension, compliance and execution is critical to successful risk management. A simulated cyber incident proactively identifies gaps in response and understanding during the process, providing a basis for making effective adjustments.
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