Innovation corner: Hitting back against data attacks

Colleges and universities have more data than ever, and with that exponential increase in sensitive information has come the prying eyes of hackers hoping to find their way into those massive data silos.

dataData breaches aren’t just disastrous public relations for universities — they can also be terribly expensive, with schools having to purchase credit monitoring services for thousands or tens of thousands of students, parents, and campus employees.

Just ask officials at the University of Maryland, which suffered a nightmarish cyber attack that compromised more than 280,000 records stored on campus servers. It marked one of the largest higher education breaches in recent memory.

UM decision makers pledged to identify sensitive information in university databases to determine whether they are needed and how to better isolate them, along with examining national cybersecurity policies and best practices to establish an appropriate balance between centralized security and broad access on university networks.

The upcoming summer months are a critical period for college and university data protection, as new student information makes its way into school databases.

Perhaps most concerning: More than half of colleges and universities transmit various kinds of sensitive information – including financial details – over unencrypted channels, according to a 2013 survey. One-fourth of the 162 institutions included in the national survey said they advised students and parents to send personal information – including W2 documents – via eMail.

Report after report has charged that higher education’s open culture has contributed to the risky information transactions, along with budget issues that leave some IT departments without resources to properly protect vital student information and campus higher-ups who don’t fully grasp the dangers of sending information over unencrypted connections.

Here are a few companies that higher education institutions are turning to as data continues to grow and news of cyber attacks continues on campuses large and small.

(Next page: A list of top data security companies)

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