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Universities Have Much to Teach Cyber Thieves, Regrettably

March 4, 2014

Talk about a target-rich environment. The mission and the collaborative nature of colleges and universities make them frequent targets of cyber-attacks. For example, cyber-criminals make 90,000 to 100,000 attempts per day against the University of Wisconsin’s networks, according to an article in the New York Times last year.  UC Berkeley’s CIO reported millions of attempts each week.

Stealing personal data is only part of the problem. Research universities, in particular, are creating cutting-edge breakthroughs in the sciences and technology that could be extremely valuable, as well as potentially harmful in the wrong hands. It’s believed that many are state-sponsored attacks emanating from China and Russia.

Sophisticated attacks are engendering sophisticated responses. The U.S. Air Force recently contracted with the University of Louisiana, in partnership with Charles River Analytics, to create a cloud-based learning system that actually evolves in response to changing threats.

Of the 4,495 colleges and universities in the U.S., precious few likely have IT budget resources that would permit them to spend $1 million just on a security upgrade for just one of their programs like the University of Wisconsin did recently. Despite that they, too, are facing more break-in attempts from increasingly bolder and smarter hackers.

Institutions of higher education typically have been challenged when it comes to IT spending and staffing.  Cost-cutting remains a primary directive at the same time omnipresent mobile and social media technologies demand new methods of communicating, teaching, and administering on and off campus. Students are the drivers of technology consumerization and will not be deterred, as many of their first employers are experiencing first hand.

As is often the case in the business world, the focus of colleges and universities tends to be on IT operations, rather than on using IT as a tool for improving student outcomes. Also, like most businesses, most universities are not in the business of running IT data centers. The speed at which technology is advancing and continually reshaping our world requires constant attention and investment to remain current and informed. That’s where cloud computing has a distinct advantage.

Beyond simple e-mail and human resource management applications, there is a great deal more that universities can be using cloud services for ─ such as managed security, network services, encrypted data storage, cloud-delivered desktops and 24/7 access monitoring.

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