Cyberattacks aren’t a challenge to take lightly--all it takes is one click to impact an entire campus

How your university can reduce the threat of cyberattacks

Cyberattacks aren’t a challenge to take lightly--all it takes is one click to impact an entire campus

At the other end of spectrum lie colleges without the resources to fight back quickly, and for them, the consequences of a ransomware attack can be fatal. Lincoln College, a private university in Lincoln, Illinois, faced a ransomware attack in late 2021, as it continued to struggle with enrollment decreases during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because it lost access to critical enrollment functions for three months, it was unable to recover in time to recruit new students for the Fall 2022 semester – leading the university to shut down this spring.

How can universities mitigate the threat?

Mitigation starts with education. Universities can start with training tools that go beyond a one-hour session on spotting obvious threats – cyberthreats have become more sophisticated, so training should be as well. Today’s training offerings can even simulate phishing attempts, sending out test emails to students and staff and, if the victim clicks on a link in the email, direct the user to complete additional training.

Promising advances in AI-driven cybersecurity tools can also help universities dodge potential threats. These solutions go beyond standard spam blockers, identifying users to potential threats, cataloguing the language and tactic used in the phishing email, and adding that knowledge to its database, ensuring that the tool evolves as threats do.

Higher-ed institutions should invest in strong backups, either in the cloud or on premise and air-gapped from potentially infected systems, to ensure there’s no disruption in operations if a system goes offline. Universities should also consider segmenting their network to hinder the spread of any potential cyberattack beyond the first system infected.

Now’s the time to prepare

Cyberattacks aren’t a challenge to take lightly. All it takes is one click to impact an entire campus – and even if the university can afford to pay the ransom and get back online, there’s no guarantee it will get full access back or all of its data returned.

Start preparing for an attack now by upgrading your training procedures, improving your security toolset, and ensuring continuity if an attack does slip through your defenses. These may be the smartest – and most financially prudent – initiatives your university takes on this year.

eSchool Media Contributors