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University challenge

Cyber security is university IT’s greatest challenge, writes Katie Petrillo at the password management company LogMeIn.

IT teams are an integral – but often forgotten – department within colleges and universities. The behind-the-scenes heroes with solutions to our never-ending technology problems. One of the most critical challenges for an IT professional in education is protecting the personal information of students, faculty and staff from digital criminals. They do this by applying proper password management and finding the correct tools to reduce the risks.

This is no easy task. Institutions store copious amounts data, which must be protected. What makes this job even more challenging is the ever-increasing volume of devices used by staff and students on the university network that increases the risk and complexity of managing this information – whether that be within a remote, on-campus or hybrid environment.

The state of cybersecurity in education

The underlying threat of cyber-criminals is growing by the day, an astonishing 88 per cent of institutions suffered an IT security infringement because of poor password management this year alone. A critical, and often underestimated, defence against these criminals is strong password hygiene via a secure password manager. This means storing, securing and managing credentials by following a set of principles and best practices. For instance, storing your password in a digital vault and never reusing a password. These simple steps can help prevent unauthorised access to an organisation’s critical data.

IT professionals working within higher education consider password, identity and access management of extremely high importance to help maintain a secure university network. Of the educational IT professionals surveyed by LastPass, 82pc considered these the highest priority for IT initiatives, 81% classed them as an even higher priority than phishing/malware/denial-of-service prevention.

Information in the wrong hands

Despite increasing awareness of the importance of password hygiene, and the concerns it raises for staff and students, the state of IT security in schools and universities is still a major cause for concern. The reality is that there are always more safeguarding measures that can be deployed to better manage passwords and user credentials in today’s landscape of ever-evolving threats. Many within higher education often still make the mistake of recycling old passwords, once these credentials fall into the wrong hands, they can grant a hacker immediate access to multiple accounts. This poses a significant challenge for often under-resourced IT teams.

Regardless of the amount of investment in cybersecurity solutions, from firewalls and intrusion prevention systems to anti-malware software, staff and students that continue to practise poor password hygiene habits significantly weaken their institution’s defence against cyber criminals.

These poor habits are exactly why 61pc of those surveyed by LastPass, classified their level of risk as “elevated, high and in some cases severe.” With busy schedules and stress levels high, it’s understandable why password management would fall down the priority list, but staff and students can’t lose sight of their contribution to the bigger security picture.

IT teams can continue to preach, ‘don’t recycle passwords’ or ‘don’t write your passwords down’, but in many cases this falls on deaf ears. Fortunately, for over-worked IT teams there is a simple and straight-forward solution that nips poor password practises in the bud – a password management solution.

Selecting your solution

A password management solution can help by simplifying password management for students, faculty, and staff while providing IT teams with greater visibility and actionable oversight, from advanced reporting tools to customisable security policies. IT teams consider ease of use to be a critical feature when evaluating vendors. It must cater to varying degrees of comfort and knowledge in terms of technology and security. Not only this, but the solution must be trustworthy and up to date with the latest technology. A password management solution should allow users to create and store passwords conveniently, as well as allowing greater control of a hybrid working environment. Using an intuitive and centralised administration console can provide the IT team with greater insight into their working environment and more control over systems. It should be customisable, as well as accessible, with region and language tags to enable users to navigate with screen readers and keyboards more easily – the key is to make it as accessible as possible so there really is no excuse.

With individual education providers seeing an average of 1,739 documented cyber-attacks every week in July, it is undeniable that institutions must provide the best defence possible, to reduce the risk. IT teams must deploy the right sort of protection and stay ahead of cyber-criminals. Staff and students trust in their school, college or university to protect their information and provide the most appropriate tools. IT teams are tasked with a huge responsibility nowadays but using the best tools can help alleviate some of the pressure, so those teams can go home without carrying the burden.


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