cybersecurity global research

3 cybersecurity best practices for global research institutions


What are the cybersecurity concerns and best practices that global research universities should be aware of to protect data?

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.

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.

(Next page: 3 cybersecurity best practices)

Though each college within a university functions independently, and each has its own goals and high-priority areas of the networks, they also need to be able to work together as a unified system. Facilitating integration between these entities is one thing a security solution must be able to do. Because each portion of the network needs to move at a similar speed, maintaining performance is mandatory. Which means that security cannot be a bottleneck.

The bottom line is that firewall performance matters now more than ever. Many firewalls are not designed to process the exceptionally large datasets that researchers are moving, while both students and malicious hackers introduce a host of security risks that must be managed and mitigated at wire speeds.

Security Requirements for Ed Tech Leaders

1. Speed and Bandwidth – As networks continue to accelerate, the data center itself now manifests as more of a fabric of connections to support higher performance. As such, it needs high-speed, high-capacity and low latency firewalls paired with the most advanced threat intelligence.

2. Segmentation – Organizations are embracing increased network segmentation as a best practice to isolate data based on applications, user groups, regulatory requirements, business functions, trust levels and locations. Segmenting internal networks reduces the likelihood of an attack shutting down your entire network should an attempt bypass detection. As a result, firewalls need to provide high port density and logical abstraction to support both physical and virtual segmentation across private and public clouds.

3. Simplification – As these data centers extend to external parties of varying trust levels, organizations need to consider a “Zero-Trust” model for data access. Such a model drives multiple security functions from just the traditional data center edge, moving more deeply into fine-grained segmentation throughout the core of the network. This requires a consolidated security platform that can support high speeds even as many functions are turned out at each micro-perimeter.

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