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Why colleges and universities are easy targets for hackers–and what to do about it

By Michael Patterson
August 10th, 2016

Unrestricted access demanded by students is luring hackers to higher education networks. But what can IT do?

hackers-colleges-universities

The complexity of College campus computer networks combined with the number of users and the need for unrestrained access, opens the door for hackers to try their skills. Unlike business owners who can make decisions on what is and isn’t blocked from the internet, colleges and universities must operate a bit differently.

These schools in many cases are essentially internet service providers for their students who access very few resources on the local network. Almost every web site they visit and email they receive is from a source that resides outside the LAN.

Students Demand Unfettered Access

Because students are often paying hefty tuitions, they generally want unfettered access to anything on the internet.  Although much of the traffic they create is non-academic related, the argument is that any blocking could inhibit their learning and research efforts.  To add to the security problem, many young adults stay plugged into social media during all hours of the day.  Even when sitting in their classes they can be found texting, tweeting and making comments on Snapchat and Facebook.  All of these communications add up to a massive amount of short, quick connections to the internet which need to be evaluated for security reasons.

When young adults aren’t on social media, the programs they are running on their personal devices are constantly uploading details about their devices, unbeknownst to many students.  In truth, many applications today are providing free use of their application in exchange for the right to take information from the student’s device.  Software such as Windows 10 and Pokémon Go for example, are frequently uploading information about the devices they are installed on.  This causes additional internet traffic which exacerbates the connection volume that university security is partially responsible for.

(Next page: Where the traffic is going and how to gain visibility to prevent hackers)


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