Well before 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic taking hold, connectivity played an important role in university life. Universities are hotbeds for ideas and innovation—and also have a nearly insatiable need for connectivity. In recent years, however, connectivity shifted from a mere convenience to a lifeline for students and universities. As these institutions built and expanded online remote access for their students, many from scratch, their IT departments were forced to shift their focus from on-campus networking to supporting a distributed global network to meet the new normal of education.
Although in-person teaching has now seen a welcome return, the wealth of online learning resources available, both on internal and external networks, are an invaluable asset to both teachers and students. Meanwhile, online retail, banking, health services, gaming, media, and more are mainstays of student life.
Now, the global networks established to support day-to-day teaching have encountered another obstacle, as the expanded attack surface attracts growing cybercrime. Attack vectors of ransomware come in the form of malicious emails, compromised websites, and infected file downloads. Schools and colleges all over the world were not immune to nor prepared for the surge in ransomware attacks during the start of the global pandemic. In fact, colleges and universities worldwide experienced a surge in ransomware attacks in 2021, and these attacks had significant operational and financial costs. Not only do schools hold large amounts of personally identifiable information (Pll), but universities, in particular, are frequently home to sensitive research and development data, making them highly valuable targets.
The Continued Needs of the New University
The pandemic was a wakeup call for IT departments in universities: improvisation and a patchwork of legacy infrastructure and security could no longer suffice. Higher education institutions needed a considered plan for moving to a more resilient, on-demand model.
Higher education faces one of the most challenging environments in IT. From proliferating unmanaged devices to spiky traffic patterns driven by class schedules, to highly latency-sensitive applications such as online classes, research, video, music, and gaming, the demands on university IT echo those of a commercial service provider, rather than an enterprise. In meeting these requirements, IT must have a fully developed strategy to ensure high availability, disaster recovery, multi-cloud security, and load balancing.
While the sector reacted as quickly and securely as possible and the shift to online education was a great success in mitigating the disruption caused by the pandemic, the rapidly evolving world of cybercrime means that these same institutions must now reassess their network security.
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