Universities are at risk for data breaches, but most people don’t know it yet. Universities are relatively easy targets ripe with data to be stolen.
The free exchange of ideas on campuses leads to educational discussion and lots of opportunity for students, but also leaves them vulnerable to the realities of insufficient network security and data protection.
The Data Security Problem Isn’t Taken Seriously
Many educational institutions have poor policies when it comes to data security, and the problem isn’t a priority for some schools. At North Dakota University, the school had even been warned about holes in their online security, but this was brushed off for years, until a breach occurred. Students need access to a variety of online tools to succeed, but this needs to come with the understanding that security measures will help keep sensitive information safe on students’ behalf.
But students have nothing to steal, why bother?
You might not think of college students as good targets for thieves. But the fact is that universities collect a lot of important information about their students in records that are valuable to hackers. Names, addresses, phone numbers, even social security numbers and health insurance info are routinely collected—and saved. Even if students don’t have a lot of financial assets, they are still targets for thieves, as data breaches at universities in the last few years have shown.
There have been many cases in the last few years that show just what a threat security breaches are at educational institutions. A few high-profile university data breaches recently included:
North Dakota University, October 2013: 290,000 records
University of Maryland, February 2014: 300,000 records
Harvard University, July 2015: 8 colleges on 2 IT systems
Butler University, November 2013: 200,000 records
Financial Implications of a Data Breach
Schools might take data security more seriously if they considered the cost of these breaches. Costs have been steadily rising in the educational sector for data breach cleanup, according to reviews by the Ponemon Institute. Costs for a breach are typically in the millions or tens of millions, while preventative security is much cheaper overall.
Aside from the tangible costs of a breach, universities also suffer a hit to their reputation, and would-be students might choose to apply elsewhere for their own safety. For these reasons, many breaches are covered up, or not revealed for some time after they are discovered.
Looking Ahead: New Regulations?
In our current culture of easy access to the internet and a massive amount of data, breaches aren’t going anywhere in a hurry, and will only become more common. More sophisticated methods are in the works all the time to get past network defenses, and security experts must constantly work to be two steps ahead of hackers and bots.
Does your school of a complete IT Asset Disposition program in place?
So what can we do to help protect students’ sensitive information? In a perfect world, schools would take steps on their own to protect students’ data, but sometimes it takes a nudge for institutions to take action. Hopefully in the future, tighter regulations will force universities to make the security of their students’ data a priority. For now, it feels like an uphill battle.
Universities Are At Risk For Data Breaches. What is Your School Doing?
If you work for a university or are a current/prospective student, it doesn’t hurt to inquire into your school’s network security policies. Universities need to be urged to improve their network security and protect their staff and students. Be sure to share your experience with us in the comments below!
Susannah Bruck is a freelance blogger, editor, and ghostwriter. She has been putting her skills to use for clients since 2010, and enjoys working on formats ranging from blog posts to short stories and plays. You can find her at World Adventures