Is your network prepared to detect and block cyber attacks?
GUEST COLUMN | by Jeffrey Honeyman
Educational institutions today serve tech-smart student populations that not only expect to connect their personal devices to campus networks, but also benefit from unprecedented opportunities for personalized learning afforded by ever-growing technological advances.
Campus networks now extend way beyond the physical campus. With the proliferation of devices on the network, students can do almost anything online, and university collaboration with other institutions extends the network well beyond the traditional ivy-covered halls. All of this means that higher education IT professionals face an enormous task when it comes to enabling end-users to maximize the benefits of increased mobility and connectivity, while keeping the institution’s network and data secure.
For educational institutions, the value of intellectual property alone calls for a strategic investment in a strong security posture that protects them from today’s evolving threats, both on and off campus.
Even within their physical borders, colleges and universities have distributed networks that broaden the attack profile for hackers, but when the campus is distributed beyond that physical border and accessible from literally thousands of devices, hackers have many potential points of entry. While the common assumption is that threats primarily target commercial businesses, the wealth of information inside the campus network ‒ student and alumni information, financial data, and valuable intellectual property ‒ represents a very attractive target to hackers whose goal is to steal.
With the current threat landscape, colleges and universities must accommodate this new world order with a holistic, end-to-end security strategy that protects from the increased frequency and sophistication of cyber threats that target every level of education. Results of a recent Dell survey of higher education IT professionals, conducted in partnership with the Center for Digital Education, show that just as cybersecurity has become a priority across industry and government, higher education institutions are shining a brighter spotlight on security, as well. In fact, 73 percent of respondents rank cybersecurity high or very high among their institution’s technology priorities. Seventy seven percent of survey respondents expect to spend more on network security in the next 12 months, and 63 percent expect to spend more on secure access to data and applications. While 65 percent of respondents said their abilities to detect and block cyberattacks are good or excellent, only 17 percent said they have not had a network breach/incident in the past year.
So, how do threats get into the campus network? The reality is that threat-entry for the bad guys is quite often a human being. Students and staff who access the campus network with their personal devices may unknowingly transmit malware or other threats present on their devices. Attacks are becoming so sophisticated that it’s often very difficult to determine what is real and what’s not. Once hackers get in the door, they try to find ways to take the credential that got them there and go after administrative accounts where they can do serious damage. Many organizations use SSL for access, but their firewalls don’t properly inspect SSL packets. This opens up an entry point for hackers to access the college network through those firewalls by embedding their bad code in encrypted SSL packets. The newly released Dell Security Annual Threat Report cites a continued surge in SSL/TLS encryption that is giving cybercriminals more opportunity to conceal malware from firewalls. The report notes this surge led to under-the-radar hacks affecting at least 900 million users in 2015
Today’s reality is that everyone is a target. For educational institutions, the value of intellectual property alone calls for a strategic investment in a strong security posture that protects them from today’s evolving threats, both on and off campus.
Safeguarding your network
Educational institution networks tend to grow organically over time, so start by standardizing the network as much as possible—reduce the number of different devices you’re using so you can monitor more easily. Monitoring is something all educational institutions need to do better, but it’s difficult to monitor vastly disparate devices. Next, begin implementing holistic, end-to-end security solutions that protect all data and endpoints, old and new, including:
- Access management solutions that evaluate a user’s identity not just on user name and password, but also in the context of where they’re coming from
- Next-generation firewalls with deep packet inspection, even for SSL
- Endpoint security and efficient patch management
The key is to protect your network from the threats you know, and be prepared to deal with the ones you don’t. With the right security posture, colleges and universities can confidently and securely offer the benefits of increased mobility and other IT advances to students and faculty alike.
Jeffrey Honeyman is Manager of Industries Marketing for Dell Security.