Cyber Security for Universities and Higher Education

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Universities are returning this Autumn with a whole host of things to consider.

And whilst cyber security may be low on the list, it really shouldn’t be.

With the new intake as with every year in the last two decades, there are risks which have to be considered - and are unusually missed.

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has warned IT security teams to be on their guard against cyber-attacks, particularly ransomware at Universities and Higher Education establishments.

BlueFort is the UK’s leading Cyber Security solutions provider with experience in helping businesses, organisations and educational institutions in defending themselves against cyber attacks.

Cyber security services for Universities

It is no coincidence that the very things that help make Universities thrive are also the things that can render them vulnerable to cyber attacks. The sharing of information and data, information-rich websites and open systems so that there is greater collaboration between students and teachers each add to the threats that these institutions face.

Included in this list of threats and vulnerabilities are;

  • Lots of users with different levels of access
  • Access across multiple buildings and locations
  • Sensitive information on students and faculty members
  • Ransoms for personal data

Whether it is on their own network, a shared system or devices across the university, understanding the cybersecurity issues that a university faces is the starting point to help protect these systems.

Security Challenges facing universities

What are the various challenges facing universities in their cybersecurity? Here are just some:

  • Open, information-rich websites that universities love leave them open to threats
  • Impact of the pandemic meant students and staff migrate to remote learning
  • Security will have come second to the sheer urgency of getting stuff up and running
  • Attackers are quick to exploit any gaps in defences, whether they are technical or human
  • Thousands of people are likely to be using personal, often unsecured or unpatched devices
  • Students given easy access to data with limited security training and awareness

Examples of cyber attacks on universities

  • Phishing attacks are very common in universities. This is where a hacker poses as a trusted entity to get access to secure information and passwords. This will more commonly happen through emails but even the social networks of universities are a target these days.
  • Ransomware attacks - threatens to publish the victim's personal data or permanently block access to it unless a ransom is paid.
  • SQL injections the hacker will enter a piece of malicious code into a query box on your website. The most common query boxes are login pages and contact forms, but there are many others. The malicious code enables the hacker to access protected data.
  • Multi-stage cyber attacks. Most of today’s sophisticated attacks are multi-stage. These are attacks that take place in stages rather than in one go. For a university, this can be different departments, different systems, even attacking the library function one week and admin the next.
  • Identity theft. Acquiring the identity of a person and using that data to cause widespread issues. With universities containing thousands of records of staff and students, this poses significant data breach issues that can’t easily be remedied.
  • Outdated systems are also a concern for universities leaving them more exposed and vulnerable. Missing even one software update can leave the entire network exposed and vulnerable.

How do attacks and security breaches harm the universities?

  • It has long been understood that cybersecurity is an issue for universities, especially as the open ended nature of their systems are a prime target for hackers and disruptors in the field.
  • It is estimated that in 2021, the average a university spent on repairing damage from cyber attacks ranged from £50,000 to £100,000. Although this is conservatively estimated as many haven’t taken the time to record it.
  • Bad headlines in local and national newspapers if the attacks are severe bringing a reputational crisis to the forefront of a students selection.
  • Costs of rebuilding and strengthening IT networks.
  • Significant expenditure on staff training and problem resolution.

Typical vulnerabilities in the public sector.

  • Open, information-rich websites that universities love leave them open to threats
  • impact of the pandemic students and staff migrate to remote learning
  • security will have come second to the sheer urgency of getting stuff up and running
  • Attackers are quick to exploit any gaps in defences, whether they are technical or human
  • thousands of people are likely to be using personal, often unsecured or unpatched devices
  • students with limited security training and awareness
  • Legacy systems with poor cyber protection.
  • Out of date software systems.
  • IoT vulnerabilities.
  • Operational Technology (OT) vulnerabilities.
  • Inadequate staff training in cyber security and cyber security awareness.
  • Poor cyber security precautions and procedures.
  • Energy and utility organisations are high value targets for cybercriminals and terrorists.
  • Expanding range of devices and the use of personal devices
  • Underfunded training and skills
  • Availability of hacking resources
  • Poor cyber hygiene and compliance

Various cybersecurity threats that the public sector need to protect themselves from:

  • Terrorist groups
  • Cybercriminals including organised crime groups
  • Hacktivists
  • Hackers
  • Insider threats (malicious and non-malicious).

Questions you should be able to answer

Whether you receive intentional or unintentional cyber attacks, you should be able to assess what the security threats are to your institution and what it means in order to protect you and your systems.

  • Who has access to sensitive data? What level of access do they have? How can it affect the day to day operations of having access to this information?
  • How are staff accessing shared data? Is it through safe and secure systems? Are these systems protected and checked?
  • How often are defences checked? Is it daily? Is it longer? When was the last check?
  • What model of cyber security are you using? Who is in charge of monitoring the issues? Who is responsible for the system security?
  • How prepared are staff and students for cyber security threats?

Why choose Bluefort?

Bluefort are leaders in cybersecurity systems in the UK. WIth experience in private owned businesses and public sector institutions, Bluefort has all the capabilities of helping advise and develiver on your cyber security needs.

Whether it is designing cyber security systems, providing assessments, consultations or simply handing over the needs of the business to get better protected, Bluefort is the choice that every organisation who is serious about their cybersecurity needs to consult.

Working with large organisations such as the NHS, AXA, Samsung, Greater Manchester Police and AVIVA (to name but a few), Bluefort has the knowledge and experience in working with large scale organisations to help build the right solution for your organisation.

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