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Education, Technology

Security threats coming from higher education networks on the rise

Infoblox has announced the results of its global survey on the state of network security at higher education institutions. Results reveal that 81 percent of IT professionals state securing campus networks has become more challenging in the last two years.

The report titled “Defending Networks at Higher Learning Institutions – Heroes Needed” found that networks at higher education institutions are incredibly complex, which can make them more vulnerable to attack. For example, the average student brings four or more devices with them on campus with 89 percent of IT professionals reporting an increase in the number of connected devices on campus networks. IT professionals are also challenged with a high volume of turnover in students each year when one quarter or more of their users change.

Uncontrollable network – number of devices on the rise

While students two years ago mainly brought laptops and smartphones with them to college, in the age of the Internet of Things, students are now using tablets (61 percent), smartwatches (27 percent) and gaming consoles (25 percent) on campus, dramatically increasing the number of devices connecting to the campus network. In addition to students bringing more devices with them to school, 60 percent of faculty, students and IT professionals use four or more devices on the campus which drives up activity on the network.

The enemy within – insider threats on campus a major cause for concern

In addition to the high number of devices making managing higher education networks difficult, internal threats are a factor with 48 percent of IT administrators believing the greatest security risks come from within the campus. For example, 54 percent of IT administrators say at least 25 percent of student’s devices come onto campus already infected with malware. Also, one in three students have reported knowing of fellow classmates that have attempted malicious acts on the school’s network.

Poor Network Practices and Outdated Security Measures to Blame
However, students are not the only ones at fault for poor network practices. In the last two years, 60 percent of faculty and staff have not made any network security changes, and 57 percent use out-of-date security measures, such as updating passwords as a security precaution.

Lack of education on security best-practices is one of the major contributions to student and faculty poor security hygiene. Thirty nine percent of IT administrators reveal that their users not being educated on security risks is one of their biggest challenges to keeping the network secure.

Beyond user error though, outdated network technology poses another challenge. Seventy one percent of students and faculty revealed that the school networks suffer performance issues at least once a month. Additionally, only 52 percent of current network management solutions have DNS provisioning capabilities and can provide remote network access control.

“As higher education institutions embrace digital transformation and users become more device reliant, their networks have become more complex and difficult to manage,” said Infoblox CTO of Field Engineering, Victor Danevich. “With this complexity, networks become more volatile and vulnerable to cyberattack if proper network security measures are not in place.”

Higher education security varies across the globe

In looking at the data globally, Germany was least confident in campus networks with 75 percent noting they did not feel their personal devices were secure on campus networks, compared to 92 percent in the UK. The UK has the most trust in their students taking precautions to secure their sensitive data with 75 percent trusting students, while only 47 percent of the US felt the students were taking necessary steps.

Help is on the way

Higher education institutions need to gain full visibility into all connected devices to prevent unwanted network threats. Intelligent DNS security solutions can help detect vulnerabilities by identifying unusual and potentially malicious network activity and provide deeper control at the infrastructure level. Antivirus solutions are not enough, colleges and universities need network monitoring solutions that leverage machine learning and artificial intelligence to identify common malicious actors and prevent future attacks. Additionally, implementing Single Sign On with two-factor authentication for all systems accessed by students can address the password challenges by enforcing password changes, validating identity, and providing the ability to quickly disable accounts when issues arise.

“In the Middle East, higher learning institution IT professionals are facing challenges that their peers in business enterprise rarely face and use inadequate tools in an attempt to protect their users and their schools. In an era where all entities must protect personal user data and intellectual property, learning institutions appear underprepared and to be taking unnecessary risks. They have some of the most challenging network scenarios in the world and need world-class tools to help them meet the mounting threats,” concludes Ashraf Sheet, Regional Director, Middle East & Africa at Infoblox.

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