Higher ed: Do you know your enemies?

Higher ed: Do you know your enemies?

By Brian Knotts on Thursday, May 29, 2014


The cyber-attack trends in higher education are sobering. According to the Capital News Service, attacks on institutions are on the rise, and The Identity Theft Resource Center recently reported that universities and their students are becoming targets of cyber scams. There is a 50 percent chance your institution has already been the victim of cyber-attack.

Today’s cyber enemies are nameless and faceless. There are no defined battlefields, and our enemies are as cryptic as they are skilled.  

Three distinct groups are attacking institutions’ data today:

  • External organizations
  • Institutional insiders
  • Rogue student hackers

Defining our enemy

So what do they look like?

External organizations are becoming larger, more sophisticated, and the driving force behind recent attacks. Structured much like a legitimate organization (with a leader and many crypto experts), these organizations launch attacks that often break down institutions, penetrate the network, and offload important student data and intellectual property to then sell to raise revenue. Supported by hundreds of servers and employees, these attackers are supremely advanced.

Threats can also come from inside an institution. Many administrative staff members have privileged access to various areas of an institution’s system. Staff members can access personal records of students and faculty, past and present, salary information, and the grading system. Accessing that information can lead to transgressions such as grade changing or identity theft.

Rogue student hackers are also a viable threat to institutions. At Ellucian, we’ve talked about how students today are immersed in the digital world and how colleges and universities need to align services with these anytime, anywhere student expectations. Supporting these technologically advanced students also has implications as to how institutions approach data security. Student hackers can develop a virus, penetrate the system, and gain control of a network. From easily changing grades, grade point averages, and financial aid info, to extracting valuable student data for malicious gain, student hackers present a viable and real threat to institutions.

Benjamin Franklin once wrote “love your enemies, for they tell you your faults.” We can learn a lot from our enemies, how they attack and what we can do to stop them.  Acknowledging and understanding your enemy is the first step to developing a sound defense plan.

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