Higher Education: Balancing Openness With the Threat of Cyberattacks

Pamela Warren


Category: Education

Higher education is a security dichotomy too tempting for cyberattackers to resist. On one hand, there are reams of valuable information: cutting-edge research, valuable intellectual property obtained with industry collaboration, confidential student and faculty records, and healthcare information. On the other, there is a culture of openness and partnership at colleges and universities critical to academic success, which is risky when it strays into IT and network security territory.

Take campus Wi-Fi as an example. It’s the heart of a college or university network. Most students, guests, visiting faculty and third-party workers access campus services through this network. Many administrative staff and faculty also use campus Wi-Fi to connect to services when they’re on the move. For management simplicity and cost purposes, most universities want as few of these access networks as possible – ideally one. But with this approach, every user is only a username and password away from access to sensitive information.

What are the alternatives? Some institutions run parallel guest, staff, student and research networks – a costly solution. Yet access becomes difficult to manage when a student becomes a researcher, or visiting faculty or other valid third parties, such as vendors and contractors, require access. There is another way. Using Palo Alto Networks Next-Generation Security Platform, higher education institutions can differentiate users with different profiles on the same network. For example, a university can grant students access to learning resources, graduate students access to research resources, guests access to internet and public-facing resources, and faculty access to their applications. The only way this works is if your security platform can identify users (not just devices), applications and potential security threats in real time.

Speaking of devices, college and university campuses were at the forefront of the BYOD revolution, but having no control over thousands of devices that use your network every day brings additional challenges. How do you keep college or university resources free from malware? How much responsibility do higher education institutions have to protect BYOD devices themselves?

For insight and suggestions on how to tackle these and other issues, take a look at our Security Reference Blueprint for Higher Education Institutions, a recent white paper that examines how institutions can protect data, improve uptime and availability, and prepare to meet new and emerging technological challenges while reducing security threats.

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