Today, innovation knows no borders. Labs and postdocs at universities worldwide are conducting more research from the field and more cross-institutional research than ever before. But transmitting this data from the field and across global networks means that cybersecurity is paramount. What are the cybersecurity concerns and best practices that global research universities should be aware of to protect data in the field and in global collaborations?

The Education Network Landscape

Thanks to technological advances and a growing number of connected devices, the proliferation of global network connectivity has had a positive impact on today’s higher education institutions. A new generation of students arrives on campus expecting constant, fast connectivity for their many devices.

From cloud services to the Internet of Things (IoT), students and faculty are now able to stay connected while outside the classroom or laboratories to improve learning and research. However, all of this private information sharing has also opened the doors to increased cybercriminal activity targeting higher ed.

The data that higher education networks house is in high demand. Personal data and sensitive university research data has great value to those who are outside the network, and they are willing to do whatever it takes to access it. At least five U.S. colleges—and possibly more than a dozen—were affected by the WannaCry ransomware worm this spring. And a VMware report revealed that nearly 8 in 10 universities in the United Kingdom have experienced damage to their reputation due to a breach; nearly three quarters of these universities have had to put the brakes on a valuable research project as the result of an attack.

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Making Collaboration Safe

Like large enterprises, universities are comprised of thousands of users and applications, and tiers of users, from students and faculty to administration and research facilities, and they need to find cost-effective ways to protect their networks. These networks have been stretched to meet the demands of students and staff while being developed within a restricted budget. At the same time, the attack surface continues to grow wider and weaker.

For instance, not only are faculty managing heavy data workloads within their university for their research, but they are also collaborating with other universities or campuses within their university system overseas. Many teams have field researchers who are creating data and uploading it remotely from points across the globe. This results in a huge amount of research data that is traversing the network and must be secured.

Medical schools with teaching hospitals represent another challenging cybersecurity scenario for higher education. The teaching hospital cannot inhabit the same network as the one accessed by the basic campus population. IT teams must find a way to segment the network effectively for medical students who need access to the general campus network but also need access to the hospital’s network. By the same token, they need to make sure that the general student population isn’t able to access patient information.

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