data privacy

How to foster innovation while keeping data private

Here are 3 best practices for keeping data safe without compromising innovation

IT infrastructure at colleges and universities has become increasingly complicated as availability, performance, and student success compete with security. But the threat landscape continues to expand, as evidenced by the growing number of cyber attacks in the sector (education institutions are the number-one target for ransomware attacks). To meet these technical demands, as well as increased cyber risks, IT teams must assume both a strategic and practical position as they seek to deploy innovative learning systems.

As higher education navigates digital transformation in an age of sophisticated cyber attacks, it’s important to look at what is expected of IT, and how they can enable technical innovation while maintaining a campus-wide focus on cybersecurity.

Technology’s role in higher ed

Attending a college or university is a significant investment for students, both in terms of time and expenses. As a result, students seek institutions that provide the highest level of technical resources to maximize their experience and ensure their success in school and beyond. Research shows that the two top business objectives of colleges are enrollment and student success. This is where digital transformation stands to play a major role.

Digital transformation incorporating artificial intelligence, IoT, virtual reality, and cloud offers college students more practical education, as well as new opportunities for collaboration through a more open network. This openness is critical, as students and faculty demand seamless access to the resources provided by the school and broader academia across an array of devices and applications. However, with so many user-owned devices connecting to the network, openness also presents a significant security risk.

(Next page: 3 ways to foster cybersecurity while increasing digital innovation)

IT must assess technology needs alongside the overall goals and capabilities of the university, including security and brand protection, and then align this IT focus with the overall business strategy.

Incorporating cybersecurity

Security must be top of mind as universities drive toward digitalization. While new technology provides educational opportunities for students, it often also serves as an entryway to the network—and potential compromise—by cybercriminals. Therefore, as technology is implemented to attract more students, security infrastructure and policies must shift as well.

Here are three ways university IT teams and leadership can foster cybersecurity while embracing digital innovation.

1. Communication across departments

Throughout the digital transformation process, IT and academic teams must communicate regularly. Universities need to be able to accommodate diverse devices that can access applications, research, fundraising, and administrative tasks—all the critical functions that require uninterrupted uptime.

Communication between the departments that use these tools and the IT teams that need to implement and secure them will enable the optimal student and administrative experience. IT teams can communicate where there may be limitations, where additional security controls will need to be added, and how technology can provide solutions and opportunities that the departments may have not even considered.

2. Educate users

This open communication between departments can also be leveraged to ensure that both faculty and students are aware of cybersecurity best practices, such as not clicking on unknown links and attachments and regularly backing up their data. Additionally, IT teams should encourage students to take ownership of their personal data security. Many of the centralized and decentralized virtual tools and resources that students use, such as peer-to-peer networking, are vulnerable to attacks that are difficult to trace.

Teaching cybersecurity best practices and holding workshops for students and faculty to learn about the technologies they use, how they can be exploited, and ways to protect them can mitigate some of this risk. This may also help to foster interest in studies in the IT and security fields.

3. Security without compromise

Many universities realize the need for increased security infrastructure, evidenced by 71 percent of higher education chief information officers planning to invest more in digital security in 2018. Specifically, institutions need to invest in security controls that do not compromise performance. Users can be quick to ignore security warnings in exchange for convenience and speed, which means that IT must select seamless security measures that allow for the accessible, open network many schools require, while securing sensitive data.

Many universities make the mistake of implementing a wide variety of isolated point solutions. Unfortunately, this approach also requires additional training and can still leave gaps in security.

An integrated approach to security provides increased visibility and control, with the added benefit of increased affordability. This approach provides integrated, automated, and seamless security across the university network infrastructure, without compromising performance.

Final thoughts

As colleges and universities adopt technology that drives higher enrollment and facilitates student success, IT must ensure that digital investments are aligned with the university’s business strategies and that cybersecurity is considered throughout the entire IT life cycle, especially during rollout and use. Leveraging open communication, user education, and integrated security controls are proven to reduce the impact cyber attacks can have on the university population, especially while undergoing a digital transformation.

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