Protecting What’s Vital

Why universities are vulnerable to cyber attacks and REN-ISAC is so important.

GUEST COLUMN | by Todd O’Boyle

CREDIT PercipientUniversities have never had a more important place as a linchpin in a global system driven by knowledge, ideas, and innovation. Knowledge is replacing other resources as the main driver of economic growth, and education is the foundation for individual prosperity and social mobility. It’s no wonder that the competition among universities to attract the best and brightest has grown so fierce. For most institutions, competitive advantage results from its research and the quality of its graduates. Not only does a world class research program add to a university’s prestige in the eyes of prospective students, it also increases the potential impact its body of knowledge has on the global economy.

Institutions of higher education must find a way to protect their networks in a cost-effective way, while still preserving the freedom of their end-users.

This is why cyber attacks are a big deal for educational institutions. Below is perspective on why that is the case as well as prescriptive advice to higher education institutions that want to mitigate the risks of malware attacks.

Before getting into that, let’s consider the top reasons why universities are often targeted by attackers.

  1. University systems contain innumerable hours of research results.

Universities are a hub of research and often the site of new discoveries and emerging frontiers in every discipline. Principal investigators and other researchers at universities often store data about their current research, as well as publication drafts, patent applications and proprietary notes. This information could be very valuable to certain interested parties, making it vital that universities protect their networks against intrusions from nation states and other institutions who might seek to compromise intellectual property to further their work.

  1. Universities are built on a culture of openness and collaboration.

Universities are built on the tenets of knowledge sharing, collaboration and the free flow of ideas. This type of open environment is exactly what a university should aim to create when it comes to facilitating cultural progress and knowledge. However, in a culture fundamentally built on sharing and trust, students and professors are more prone to clicking on phishing links or accidentally downloading compromised files – putting them at a greater risk for cyber attacks.

  1. Universities have valuable personally identifiable information.

It makes sense that people often think of financial institutions, healthcare organizations and e-commerce companies as prime targets for data theft and compromise. But, as Jim Waldo, a computer science professor and CTO at Harvard pointed out, “There are parts of what a university does that are just like anyone else—we have credit cards, we have social-security numbers, we have health records, we have educational records—all of which we have to, by law, lock down in just as firm a fashion as corporations do.”

In other words, universities store information about their students and employers which can be financially valuable to criminals. Some examples of this information are social security numbers, credit card numbers, addresses and phone numbers, as well as medical, financial and professional details.

  1. IT departments have limited control over end devices used by students, professors and guests on their networks.

Universities are largely bring-your-own-device (BYOD) organizations, in that they do not own the majority of the laptops, computers and mobile devices that connect to their networks. Furthermore, faculty members and students generally have more control over their data than employees of companies or government agencies. Because of this dynamic, universities cannot guarantee endpoint security and must focus on securing the network instead.

  1. Universities have limited resources to defend the network.

If you work at a university, you are probably more familiar with the term “budget cut” than you’d like to be. In 2014, six years after the start of the recession, many universities were still funded at below-recession levels. With the focus on classroom experiences and public research, this often translates to fewer resources for the IT department, which makes it harder for them to detect and respond to attacks. This means that it can take years to even discover that a system was compromised (much less remedy it). For example, it had been nearly three years since Penn State’s network was breached when they discovered the incident in Summer 2015. (And they are far from alone in this.)

How Universities Can Begin to Fight Back Against Cyberattacks

Research and innovation is an important currency of any university. The true cost of a cyber attack revolves around the loss of intellectual property. What would happen if a cutting-edge research project at your university was successfully attacked and a foreign school was able to publish before you were?

We know that every dollar spent on IT staff and products takes away from research and education. That’s why we think it is important to give your security program focus. Below are a set of questions that we think you should optimize your security program to answer.

Why and how will I be attacked?

Don’t focus on the hypothetical. Pay attention to what is happening at other universities (through REN-ISAC and similar working groups) and study the attacks that are happening to them. Pay attention to not just the how but the why. What targets were the attackers going after? Do you have research programs focused on that? Chances are, those programs will be a target.

Be sure to “pay it forward” and share how you were attacked when it happens. Intelligence sharing is a two way street. The more you share, the more you’ll get back.

Have I seen this indicator?

Another component of REN-ISAC is the sharing of indicators. Ensure every component of your security program is set up to use this indicator data. Build automations to use the indicators, saving your precious resources for higher order analysis and incident response. It is the best view you have of actual adversary activity. If you have to decide between a hypothetical threat vector and an indicator in use today, pick the indicator.

What’s my biggest weakness?

Spend your energy understanding and fixing your biggest weakness. Are attackers stealing passwords to impersonate faculty or staff? Work on multi-factor authentication. Are they phishing your faculty? Educating faculty and students on how to recognize a phishing attack is the key. By focusing on fixing one problem at a time, you will provide students, faculty and staff the ability to really improve and not get fatigued by yet another security lockdown.

With so much at stake, it is very clear why cybercriminals are attacking universities at such high rates today. Based on current trends, we can only expect to see a rise in university-directed attacks. Institutions of higher education must find a way to protect their networks in a cost-effective way, while still preserving the freedom of their end-users.

Todd O’Boyle is co-founder and chief technology officer of Percipient Networks, provider of Strongarm, which protects businesses of all sizes against malware. Contact him through LinkedIn

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Personalized Perspective

Delivering the best learning experience to each and every student.

GUEST COLUMN | by Dave Saltmarsh

CREDIT JAMF SoftwareTechnology programs in the classroom have opened the door for teachers to offer a more engaging, interactive, and individualized learning experience for students. Often referred to as personalized learning, these new teaching practices give educators the ability to meet students where they are at in their skill level and provide access to learning resources specifically tailored to their needs.

These efforts also encourage spontaneous interaction, maximize district technology investments, and fully leverage instructional time.

While not every student learns in the same way and at the same pace, personalized learning encourages collaboration and motivates children to learn in a way that is right for them. And best of all, it affords teachers the power to quickly address student needs without disrupting others or drawing unwanted attention to a particular student or group of students.

Let’s explore the main benefits of technology and personalized learning in the classroom, as well as some examples of technology programs and tools educators can leverage to provide the best learning experience to each and every student.

Technology makes transformative learning possible

By adding technology tools like iPads and apps to student learning quests, educators can immerse students in a wealth of educational resources, improve outcomes, leverage a variety of teaching approaches, and even track and compare a student’s progress and understanding. The following tools are prime examples of apps that leverage iPads to achieve personalized learning:

  • iTunes U: Gives teachers a streamlined approach to deliver lessons, grade assignments, and stay connected.
  • eSpark: Curates the best available educational applications, bundling them in personalized learning plans for students so they are challenged, yet learn at a pace that is right for them.
  • Socrative: Provides teachers with the ability to administer quick assessments and receive instant feedback on student understanding.

The role of MDM in personalized learning

With teachers already strapped for time and resources, it is crucial that the technology does not take away from learning or classroom time. With mobile device management (MDM) for iPad, teachers can simplify their digital shift and enjoy more opportunities to enhance instruction, all without the concern of students becoming too engaged with their device or potentially lagging behind their peers.

For teachers, an MDM solution puts the power of iPad directly into the instructor’s hands. Teachers can transform their classrooms and labs into interactive, mobile learning spaces. By leveraging educational apps, teachers can focus students on a specific app or webpage, lock iPads into testing apps for secure assessments and quizzes, and quickly display student work on an Apple TV. This allows teachers to guide students through the curriculum at a pace that is right for them, and even encourages the most introverted students to share their work with the class.

Empower IT to drive learning forward

Teachers aren’t the only ones benefiting from MDM. For IT, an MDM solution automates the tasks associated with iPad deployment, content distribution, and security. While it only takes a few minutes to get started with an iPad, repeating the set up and configuration steps for hundreds of students is a time consuming-task. With an MDM solution, IT can leverage Apple School Manager and automatically enroll and deploy iPads without having to actually touch the devices. This saves IT hundreds of hours at the start of each school year and also as students leave or join a district or class.

Deployment is simply the first step in the iPad management equation. IT is also responsible for helping departments and classes get the software and content they need for their lessons. With Apple School Manager, IT can purchase apps in bulk from the App Store and then use an MDM to either distribute those apps directly to student devices or create a custom app store where educators and students can download school-approved apps on their own and when they need them.

Get the most out of class time

Combining iPads, apps, and an MDM solution makes for a powerful and compelling education offering. Schools can deliver a personalized learning experience that allows for engagement and teacher intervention at an individualized level. These efforts also encourage spontaneous interaction, maximize district technology investments, and fully leverage instructional time.

As K-12 schools and districts continue to invest in technology, the need for a robust MDM that supports and facilitates transformative learning will grow exponentially. Equipping IT with the right management solution is the first step in offering teachers and students the devices that help them achieve their goals and take learning to new heights.

Dave Saltmarsh is a former classroom teacher, IT and Library Director, and current educational evangelist for JAMF Software, a leading Apple device management company based in Minneapolis.

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Cool Tool | ChatterHigh

CREDIT Ruffalo Noel Levitz | 2015 E-Expectations ReportHigh school seniors believe the most influential resource for researching colleges is the actual college website (80 percent). High school juniors seldom ask school counselors when they have questions while researching college (4 percent), but instead turn to college websites for the answer (71 percent) source  To help higher education engage with high school students, ChatterHigh has developed an effective learning resource for teachers that provides a fun, free, curriculum based edu-game for students to explore deep in college web and social media assets. Students receive a free, mobile, daily, 10-minute, 10-question edu-game in the form of a quiz. Teachers receive a free and simple classroom dashboard to track, monitor, and assess student participation and progress. With the support of ChatterHigh staff or on their own, colleges develop quiz questions that lead students to web and social media content proven to help students with decision making. A new gamified and programmatics based communication channel specifically designed for higher education to engage high school students is right on time—as, these days it seems: if it isn’t between their nose and their phone, it doesn’t exist. Learn more…

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E-nnouncing Something New

Two sisters discover an untaken niche in the world of students and social media.  

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

CREDIT Melissa and Meghan GoEnnounceOriginally created as a way for students to announce their high school or college graduation online for free, and to then seamlessly receive gifts and congratulations, GoEnnounce was founded by sisters Melissa and Meghan Davis (pictured). When they first built it, students could create what they called a “Grad Page” — sharing everything they accomplished in school and what they were doing next. “Not only did students go crazy filling out these ‘Grad Pages’,” says Melissa (pictured, left), “but the recipients of their graduation announcement spent a significant amount of time

We believe too much time and emphasis in the school system is spent on the importance of test scores and GPAs for college readiness. Not enough is being done to help students individually find their strengths and learn to understand their own interests, and more importantly—how these can translate into professional goals.

learning about the student on the Grad Page and commenting with, ‘I didn’t know you did this…’ or, ‘I could have helped you with this…’.” Melissa and Meghan were quick to take notes, and learned that:

  1. Students had no place to digitalize their academic/extracurricular accomplishments
  2. The important people in their life had no clue what was going on, or more importantly, how they could help.
  3. By graduation, such help was too late. “Students were not using social media effectively to leverage their accomplishments and goals to increase their achievement,” says Melissa. They envisioned a year-round place for all students to leverage their accomplishments and goals to access what they need—staying on track for college and funding.

They’re thrilled GoEnnounce is now being embraced by schools and districts as a safe, social, e-portfolio solution that provides students with storage capabilities to house their academic and extracurricular accomplishments. “Our all-inclusive digital citizenship curriculum educates students, parents and teachers on how to prepare students with the skills to be successful in college and a globally competitive career market,” says Melissa.

What’s something interesting about its development history?  

go ennounce logoMelissa: Traditionally, we have gone straight to the consumer—the student—and that’s how we always envisioned our acquisition strategy would continue. Just uttering the word “social media” in classrooms used to have educators running for the hills. Needless to say, we never imagined that GoEnnounce would be so highly accepted in the education world as a learning tool. It’s been truly amazing for us to see the feedback and excitement that educators have shown while bringing GoEnnounce into the classroom as a tool to educate students on cultivating a positive digital footprint.

How was it working in the classroom, talking with the students, collaborating with specialists? Any lessons learned?  

Melissa: Since our users are secondary students, we have always been concerned with creating a safe environment, providing a high level of security that is protective of student data. Going into schools, we made this an even higher priority. We really took the time to adhere to school policies and make GoEnnounce completely safe for students. Another thing that helped us tremendously is that, early on, we were very communicative with our first student adopters, understanding what they liked about GoEnnounce, and what they sometimes disliked. This helped us tweak the platform based on what students actually wanted from an educational social network. We remember days when we’d talk to 25 students per day for feedback!

Anything interesting about your own background that informed your current approach?

Meghan: We grew up in with an extended family that lived all over the country which, obviously, makes day-to-day or even week-to-week conversations challenging. Being a close-knit family though, everyone always wanted to know how we were doing in school, so this was always the first question asked. When developing the concept for GoEnnounce, we couldn’t help but think how incredible it would have been to keep these people updated in a more meaningful and constant way. Students are getting the positive encouragement they deserve while improving communication and assessment skills as they share and track their individual accomplishments and goals. When so much of the focus tends to be on test scores and GPA’s, this is a platform where students begin to understand their unique strengths and goals as they share updates to get reassuring feedback and advice from their mentor network.

Would you call yourself a sort of LinkedIn junior edition? How are you different from them if they were to open it up like that? What’s your 60 second pitch to someone on what exactly it is, benefits?

CREDIT go ennounce featuresMelissa: While LinkedIn is an amazing tool, we believe that it is too advanced to be a student’s first “professional” social network. On LinkedIn, professionals highlight current and prior work history, connect with other professionals, and utilize the platform to access higher career opportunities available. We do the same for students, but instead of providing tools geared towards a career, we focus on college readiness.

Meghan: On GoEnnounce, students leverage their accomplishments to get what they need—to stay on track for college and receive funding.  Students create an ongoing digital resume in their own voice, tracking everything from volunteer hours, extracurricular activities, scholarships/awards, and academic projects. They share updates with mentors and relatives. They can crowdfund for anything from test prep to athletics, and we offer exclusive brand-sponsored scholarships.

Students can increase their achievement by using our discover activities tool and our safe, social network also allows students to see what other students around the country are sharing and accomplishing. We have just launched a way for students to earn micro-credentials via a partnership with PD Learning Network ( Just as adults use Linkedin, micro-credentialing and e-portfolios can be a very powerful tool that improve students’chances with admissions, scholarships and employers.

Do you consider that you have any direct or indirect competition?

Melissa: Companies like Pathbrite and Navience offer students e-portfolio and resume building tools for college. RaiseMe rewards students’ achievements with hypothetical micro-scholarships from universities. Companies such as Piggybacker and GoFundMe offer users a one-time crowdfunding tool for education. While these are all wonderful tools for students, GoEnnounce puts all these features in one place, and targets the lifelong learner as a repeat customer.

We’ve created a more cohesive, real-time, e-portfolio, year after year, around the accomplishments students share, in his or her own voice. Achievements students receive or demonstrate on learning management systems, learning applications, RaiseMe or e-portfolio tools can be shared into a student’s GoEnnounce Student Page. GoEnnounce becomes the place that houses all student achievement, it’s not a one time resume or e-portoflio tool, and the information the student shares on GoEnnoune stays with the student, not the teacher, district or LMS system.

A student’s GoEnnounce Student Page URL creates a positive digital footprint around academic and extracurricular achievements and becomes something colleges, scholarships, and employers want to see. The social element of students’ sharing updates, empower them to reach their goals. Students receive limitless encouragement and actual rewards from their followers and corporate sponsorship. Other platforms, such as RaiseMe, offer hypothetical rewards that students achieve only by attending a specific university.

Finances are a huge barrier to increased student achievement. To tackle this, we’ve given students a tool to raise funds at anytime during their academic career. Our crowdfunding tool is a long-term solution, specific to education and students. We are dedicated to students creating a continued dialogue about their ongoing goals and needs. By sharing updates, students build relationships with the network that will consistently help them. GoEnnounce allows them to fundraise with this group time and time again, if needed.

Any highlights about test marketing it, starting out; any interesting feedback or reaction to your platform?

Meghan: Interestingly enough, we spent our first year live-targeting college students. It seemed like the perfect fit—they are away from home and always in need of funding. The problem was, they had already spent their entire life not talking about school online, so why start now. That’s when we moved to high school and younger and found this age demographic to be excited to finally have a place to showcase their educational life. We learned that teens compartmentalize their social media, using Snap Chat for one thing, Instagram for another. GoEnnounce is where they talk about school.

What else can you say about its value and benefit?

Melissa: GoEnnounce gives every learner a voice about their education as students build their unique digital pathway. We are a cloud-based solution that provides students with storage capabilities to house their academic and extracurricular accomplishments, safely in a social space. While the social aspect, is meant to make tracking accomplishments fun for students it was also designed to help students develop, grow and understand the value of a Personal Learning Network (PLN). By connecting their network to their education, and talking about their goals students this increases student achievement.

Let’s talk about Digital Citizenship and curriculum in this area. Why and what do you have? What has been some of the direction of discussion here? Plans?

Melissa: We offer a comprehensive Digital Citizenship curriculum package that includes lesson plans for the class with group activities, digital lessons for the student to access directly that issue certified micro-credentials, online teacher PD and parent videos.  Instead of preaching about social media negativity or banning and scaring students away from social media use, students, parents & teachers see how social media can be empowering. Our curriculum (lesson plans to be taught by the teacher and digital lessons for the student to navigate on their own) teaches students how to use GoEnnounce safely as an outcome-based social media tool. We illustrate the effects of how one misstep on alternate social media channels can affect their future. Active use of the GoEnnounce social e-portfolio software, throughout school in subsequent years, as encouraged by teachers, produces positive habits of lifelong learning by promoting student reflection on their continued achievements and progress.

Our 10-lesson curriculum was created via a partnership with ESSDACK for grades 7-12, with a pre- and post-test. It educates students on digital security, copyright, digital literacy, digital communication, and digital footprint. The ten lessons can be arranged topically or by grade level. Instructional strategies are all research based and lessons include opportunities for students to critically read texts, respond to texts, and participate in group activities and discussions.

During the pilot in fall 2015 with 7th, 8th, 11th and 12th graders, we saw amazing results. Students scored an average of 50 percent on the pre-test and an average of 90 percent on the post-test, illustrating how students are creating accounts online and not knowing anything about their digital footprint and the information they are putting out there online. Students also participated in a privacy survey. 72 percent of students admitted to already having 1-6 social media accounts and 40 percent of students said they freely share identifiable information such as their address, birthday, social security number, photographs, and medical information online.

Via our partnership with PDLN, students can earn micro-credentialed badges via PD Learning Network (PDLN) digital courses that are offered exclusively on GoEnnounce. The online course for students is broken down into 6 digital lessons, (Digital Footprint & Safe Social Media Use, Health Safety & Wellness, Digital Etiquette, Digital Literacy & Communication, Digital Commerce, Bullying). Students have to submit assessments to be evaluated by PDLN’s s credentialed educators. Upon completion a micro-credentialed badge lives on the GoEnnounce Student Page.

With 35 percent of college admission officers already visiting applicant’s social media pages as of 2014 according to Kaplan, and this is predicted to rise to over 50 percent by 2017 according to Social Assurity, Digital Citizenship education needs to be key for college readiness. If a fundamental objective for secondary education is to prepare students for college and employment, educators can no longer ignore addressing responsible online behavior at school.

Anything else in the works? Additional products, features, series, or angles?

Melissa: We plan to expand the online micro-credentialing courses we offer to schools for students, to include additional online classes that certify lessons learned. We are also working with schools to incorporate their own badging systems onto the GoEnnounce Student Page that displays the meta data associated with what the student learned.

We are also in the process of expanding the amount of exclusive scholarship initiatives we offer students using GoEnnounce. These will be structured to target students based on their individual passions/accomplishments. For example, a student athlete can opt into our monthly athletic scholarship and they are selected based on how well they are utilizing their Student Page to portray this. Students react positively to being recognized for their accomplishments, and our exclusive scholarship opportunities do just that.

Your thoughts on education in general these days?

Melissa: We believe too much time and emphasis in the school system is spent on the importance of test scores and GPAs for college readiness. Not enough is being done to help students individually find their strengths and learn to understand their own interests, and more importantly—how these can translate into professional goals. We are huge fans of personalized and project-based learning and wish it was more widespread to encourage and highlight a student’s unique, personal achievements.

Your thoughts on technology’s role in education?

Melissa: Technology offers amazing capabilities to increase achievement and make learning more accessible to individual students. Specifically, learning platforms that highlight where a specific student may be falling behind or another student may be excelling, allow the teacher to individually instruct those students instead of teaching a mass lesson to the entire class and risk a student getting lost because of confusion or boredom.

However, technology can’t replace the importance of one-on-one interaction between the teacher and the student. Technology should be thought of as tools to increase learning achievements but not replace all real-world interaction.

Also, while the increase of edtech products is awesome and at an all time high, it can be overwhelming for educators to keep up with all the new tools and apps available. Educators can get bogged down trying to keep up. Smaller edtech startups that offer amazing new tools can’t always keep up with the big edtech companies to get the word about their product out there. There needs to be better marketplaces for teachers and district leaders to search by curriculum and interest for products that range from smaller startup companies to more well-known brands. These need to include reviews from actual users of the products and all products should have equal opportunity to be found and viewed.

Any guidance or advice to educators these days?

Meghan: Seek out other educators passionate about a similar subject that you want to learn more about. Don’t be afraid to contact them for ideas on resources to use or even just to chat. They are passionate about this topic for a reason, so will love to provide you with guidance. Twitter is a great way to connect!

Anything more you’d like to add or emphasize?

Melissa: We love communicating with educators for feedback to help make GoEnnounce even better for students! Feel free to contact us for a demo of the platform or to learn more about bringing GoEnnounce into your school at

Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to:

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Cool Tool | SchoolMint

CREDIT SchoolMint imageCreated to help
families navigate and for schools to manage the school enrollment process, SchoolMint is a cloud-based student enrollment and school choice platform. Available online and on mobile devices, and used by more than 2,000 schools in 70 cities in 30 states and four countries, it automates the entire enrollment and registration process and provides real-time insights and predictive analytics to help guide school operations. The platform also supports school choice, manages waitlists and lotteries and supports year-round parent communications and fee collection. It’s seeing notable expansion in large urban markets, including recent partnerships with districts in Indianapolis, Camden, NJ and Cleveland. The platform “has provided us with a comprehensive system that immediately streamlined our enrollment and registration processes,” notes Kevin Alin, Executive Director of School Choice and Enrollment with Cleveland Metropolitan School District. “The intuitive design has made it easy for our staff and parent community to seamlessly embrace this new best-in-class technology, and the dedicated SchoolMint team has been with us every step of the way. Adopting this technology platform has made a previously tedious and costly process significantly easier.” Learn more.

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