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Strengthening Cyber Security in Higher Education with InterSystems


As higher education institutions usher in a new academic year, the challenges they face have never been more demanding. Universities and colleges are grappling with the dual pressure of implementing COVID-safe practices and fortifying their digital infrastructure against the surge in cyber-attacks. These factors necessitate the need to revisit and strengthen "higher education security strategies" and "university network security".

The Cyber Threat Landscape in Higher Education

Higher education institutions serve as attractive targets for cybercriminals, owing to the enormous amounts of data they hold, the substantial community they support, and their open structure. Recent statistics are alarming. In August 2020, Microsoft found that a staggering 61% of malware encounters were focused on the education sector. The gravity of these threats becomes even more palpable when considering the recent ransomware attacks on institutions like Newcastle University and Northumbria University.

These alarming trends underscore the need for a robust framework for "cyber security in higher education". It's no longer a question of if a cyberattack will occur, but rather when it will occur. For this reason, it's paramount for universities to assess their "cyber security risks" and develop fortified security strategies accordingly. This article aims to shed light on the key factors universities should consider as they navigate towards improved data protection.

Understanding the Value of Data in University Networks

A typical university network is a goldmine of information. It houses vast volumes of personal data, research data, intellectual property, and other assets. To cybercriminals, this trove of data presents an opportunity too enticing to pass up. As such, universities find themselves in the crosshairs, facing substantial risks. The attacks often take the form of phishing and ransomware attacks that can expose staff and students to "account hacking in universities", credential theft, and "credit card fraud prevention in universities".

Given the rich variety and vast volume of data universities handle, implementing comprehensive data protection measures is an absolute necessity. It's here that InterSystems' IRISdata platform shines. IRIS offers robust data management capabilities, including advanced data security measures, that can help secure and protect this critical data. In addition to encryption, auditing, and user authentication, IRIS also allows for granular control over who can access data, thus reducing the risk of data breaches.

Building a Robust Defence Against Cyber Threats

To fend off cyber threats, universities must adopt transparent strategies and policies that help reduce risk and safeguard data. Regular data backups, keeping data offline at certain times, monitoring network traffic, and managing access controls - all these steps form the bedrock of a solid cyber defence strategy.

In addition to these measures, implementing "two-factor authentication in universities" can significantly bolster security. Two-factor authentication is an extra layer of security that requires not only a password and username but also something that only the user has access to, such as a physical token. This makes it much harder for potential intruders to gain access to personal accounts, ensuring the integrity of the data within.

InterSystems' TrakCare unified healthcare information system is a worthy model to consider here. Although TrakCare is designed for healthcare, the principles of secure data management and user authentication it espouses could serve as a useful blueprint for higher education institutions looking to bolster their security. With TrakCare, healthcare organisations can ensure the safe, secure, and compliant handling of patient data, qualities that are equally important when dealing with student data in higher education.

Planning for the Inevitable: Breach Response and Recovery

Universities need to prepare for the worst-case scenario: a successful breach. A solid response plan includes the option of shutting down entire networks and systems for a period, enabling the institution to respond to the attack, identify the infection point, reset and analyse the infrastructure. This downtime allows for essential processes such as changing passwords, updating credentials, restoring data, and notifying the authorities to comply with data protection and security regulations.

InterSystems' Ensemble, a seamless platform for integration and the development of connectable applications, can play a pivotal role in rapidly restoring system functionality after a breach. With Ensemble, institutions can connect and integrate existing systems with minimum disruption, reducing downtime and helping to quickly restore normal operations following a security incident.

Processing Large Volumes of Data Securely

In an era of rapid digital transformation, higher education institutions face the challenge of managing, processing, and securing an ever-growing volume of data. Effective "data management in higher education" is essential not only for maintaining cyber security but also for delivering on the promise of digital transformation.

InterSystems IRIS is a leading solution for higher education institutions facing these challenges. It offers advanced capabilities for big data analytics, allowing institutions to leverage their data for informed decision-making, without compromising security or compliance. Furthermore, with its powerful interoperability and scalability features, IRIS can support the needs of large institutions dealing with complex, multi-system environments.

The Path Forward: Emphasising Cyber Security in Higher Education

Cyber security in higher education is not just about mitigating threats; it's also about creating an environment of trust for students, faculty, and stakeholders. It's about safeguarding intellectual property, personal data, research findings, and the reputation of the institution itself.

InterSystems has a robust portfolio of data management and integration products that can help universities fortify their cyber security. Whether it's managing and securing vast volumes of data with IRIS, integrating and connecting applications and systems with Ensemble, or taking inspiration from the secure data handling practices of the TrakCare healthcare system, InterSystems offers powerful solutions that can support higher education institutions in their journey towards enhanced cyber security.

As higher education institutions navigate the complexities of cyber security, they must also consider the broader picture. Beyond the technical strategies and products, there lies the ultimate goal: creating a secure, trustworthy, and resilient environment that supports academic excellence and innovation.

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