5 ways to help campus users combat common data breaches

How IT can help guide users away from costly data breaches while maintaining productivity and access.

The Ponemon study shows malicious attacks account for 47 percent of all breaches. Less prevalent are system glitches and human error, but these can be just as dangerous given that they often go unnoticed for a lengthy period of time. In fact, the same study shows that it takes an average of 158 days to identify a data breach caused by human error. Such lengths can allow the problem to fester, opening up more devices and data to unsafe practices.

All universities are subject to breaches, but doctoral and master’s institutions are most susceptible, likely because they hold vast records and desirable research data. The numbers support this: According to a Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) report, 63 percent of breaches occur at doctoral institutions, and 21 percent occur at master’s institutions.

So, how do data breaches “enroll” at universities? Within the three main types of data breaches are five unique subsets that especially harm university systems and can provide a path to vulnerabilities and attacks. These include:

1. Malware and viruses

Malware and viruses enter a higher educational institution’s system with malicious intent or by accident. Once in the system, they go to work deleting files and stealing passwords, bank accounts and other sensitive information.

2. Unsafe software and apps

Unsafe software and apps that are downloaded onto systems or devices open the floodgates for personal information to be shared with the world or cause hardware to completely shut down.

3. Personal services downloads

Most, if not all, faculty and staff at colleges and universities utilize personal email accounts and services such as Dropbox on their devices. While Dropbox itself is not a harmful service, when personal services are downloaded and used outside of a college or university’s scope, these seemingly safe services can be a vessel for data breaches.

4. Unsafe network practices

With today’s mobile workforce, it’s very common for faculty and staff to connect to their college or university network from home or a coffee shop. If users aren’t utilizing a secure virtual private network (VPN), they can inadvertently leave the network vulnerable to attack.

5. Unencrypted devices

Faculty and staff aren’t immune to mistakes and can forget their device or a USB stick on or off campus. When devices are lost or stolen, they become prime targets for data breaches.

In the face of these vulnerabilities, it’s tempting for IT to respond by simply locking down access and restricting unknown software. However, the catch-22 is that when IT is too restrictive, faculty and staff are more likely to circumvent policies and workflows to get the resources and services they want and need.

While the threat of a security attack is constantly present at a campus’ doorstep, there are ways higher educational institutions can work with users to ensure they aren’t the ones inviting them to orientation. Here are five:

1. Make endpoint protection standard to alleviate malware and viruses

A good endpoint protection system can greatly decrease the risk of infection and provide IT with the tools needed to respond to a security breach. To maximize coverage, consider making endpoint protection for all devices – whether institutionally owned or personally owned. This task is greatly simplified with a mobile device management (MDM) tool that can install software on a managed device.

2. Make trusted software and apps available on demand

IT can create an internal app catalog where only tested and college or university-approved software, apps and settings for faculty and staff are made available for download. If a faculty member requires an app that is not available in the self-service style catalog, they simply submit a request to IT.

3. Make IT services equivalent to personal services

If IT services – such as email, backup, file sharing and collaborative services – are as good as what a user has access to outside of work, there’s no need for them to go rogue and rely on their personal services. IT should utilize the services that users are most comfortable and productive with, and make them the standard.

4. Make VPN readily available for secure network practices

Cloud computing makes it easy for users to utilize a VPN. IT can even go beyond simple password authentication and implement certificate-based Wi-Fi authentication to ensure only the devices it wants can access the network.

5. Make data encryption mandatory

Colleges and universities can enforce encryption requirements and easily report on compliance across the entire institution. When built-in encryption technology is leveraged, user devices don’t take a performance hit from a third-party security addition, and IT can manage all recovery keys so they can quickly address password resets, device activation lock bypass, and remote lock and wipe.

When you put users at the center of IT management and give them freedom and flexibility in how they use their devices, the result is happier and more productive employees who are more likely to adhere to your policies. True, this is easier said than done, but leveraging the right guidelines can help provide both user autonomy and a secure IT ecosystem.

Just don’t wait until it’s too late. Align your campus’ security strategy today, and deny admission to costly security breaches before they force their way in.

eSchool Media Contributors
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