University cybersecurity: Different, but still the same

Universities are shoring up their cybersecurity strategies amid a rising wave of attacks on their networks, GCN reports. Schools from the University of North Carolina to the University of California at Berkeley have doubled the size of their IT staffs and/or budgets in order to address the problem.

A challenge many say university IT managers face is striking a balance between protecting sensitive information while allowing the open sharing of information characteristic of educational institutions. “A university environment is very different from a corporation or a government agency, because of the kind of openness and free flow of information you’re trying to promote,” David Shaw, Purdue University’s CISO, recently told the New York Times.

But although a university network may be set up differently than a government agency’s, when it comes to security, “I’m not sure if they really do differ,” said Will Pelgrin, president and CEO of the Center Internet Security and former chief cybersecurity officer for New York State.

CIS works with universities as part of its cybersecurity programs for the public and private sectors. Pelgrin said there are differences in how university admins handle their infrastructures — such as separate administrative and student-focused networks — but security is largely a matter of dealing with the same essential challenges any other organization faces: understanding the environment and finding a secure way to deliver services.

And as with any other enterprise, that means a layered approach, combining security policy with technologies such as firewalls, antivirus and intrusion detection software. And an increasingly important step is deploying encryption of all those laptops, tablets and smartphones on campuses. “We’ve become such a mobile society,” Pelgrin said. “Data used to be static … and now we carry most of that information on us on a 24/7 basis.”

Encryption, however, is a potentially knotty issue, because the burden ultimately falls to the users. And that puts the emphasis on education.

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