The No. 1 Key to Campus Data Security: Create Layers

The No. 1 Key to Campus Data Security: Create Layers

By Kari Banjord on Monday, September 15, 2014


There’s not an administrator among us who wouldn’t like to close his or her eyes and pretend for a second that the threat of campus data breaches is a nightmare the world will eventually wake up from.

Hope as we might, the problem isn’t going away. Research tells us that 551 data breaches were reported by college and universities between 2005 and 2013. This past year was rife with high-profile attacks, and institutions are learning more than they ever wanted to about how to counteract these threats. Inevitably, we will see more news of these attacks over the coming months and years.

“It’s been said as much as 50 percent of the institutions have had some sort of attack,” says Brian Knotts, senior vice president of applied research at Ellucian, in a recent video interview on data security. “It may be a minor attack, it may be a very major attack.“

There are several schools of thought about how to best protect campus networks from unwanted intrusions. For Knotts, the secret to effective data security lies in the ability of network administrators to create layers of defense.

Explains Knotts, “We want to have [the data that is in our systems] encrypted, and we also want to be able to monitor important parts of those systems, so that if there is a penetration, you know exactly what was accessed.”

In addition to external threats, it’s prudent to consider the possibility of internal threats. “You have a lot of folks who, when the system was installed, may have had elevated privileges,” Knotts says. “Maybe they want to look up somebody else’s salary to compare that to their salary. Or look up grades. Heaven forbid that they want to change some of that information.”

He adds, “You need to go back and say, ‘Where was that system accessed, and why?’”

The point is simple: Encryption of data is a great idea, but it is not the only measure that a good security policy should embrace. A secure policy must be accompanied by monitoring for preventive and forensic purposes. Further, the entire environment should be protected by firewall policies that are transparent to the systems that need to operate inside that environment while they prevent intrusions. Layers are key.

Want more advice, including a few best practices for protecting your campus network against an inevitable cyber-attack? Check out our interview with Brian, below.

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