Higher education sector needs better data protection management6 March 2014
A spate of data breaches at American universities highlights the need for improved data protection management in this critical sector. Each of these recent incidents highlights the frequency with which colleges adhere to outdated information security policies and fail to develop sufficient continuity and response methods. Hordes of data, bloated systems and a lack of IT discipline create a perfect storm of vulnerability, which hackers seem increasingly intent on exploiting.
A recent data breach at the University of Maryland exposed 309,000 records belonging to faculty, staff, alumni and students, according to NPR. The compromised records contained names and dates of birth, but most crucially, Social Security numbers, which can be used for a variety of fraudulent purposes. Any IT security professional would recognize that Social Security numbers should not be stored indefinitely on an institution's servers unless absolutely necessary. It's especially true in this case, as the records date back to 1998. A lack of data protection management in the face of threats that developed since then may now be affecting alumni in their mid-30s.
Indiana University was also recently hit with a data breach, compromising the personal data of 146,000 students and alumni, reported Reuters. Social Security numbers were again among the information that may have been exposed. During the aftermath, the university discovered that the information had been stored insecurely for the past 11 months.
Implementing data protection management that works
It's likely that information security concerns rank fairly low on most universities' lists of pressing issues. Budgetary limitations, inexperienced workers in college information technology departments and slow progress in technological development all hamper high education organizations in their effort to confront today's cyber realities, according to Southern Maryland Online. Paul Stephens, director of policy and advocacy at the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, highlighted the unique vulnerabilities the higher education system faces, given its massive networks and high user turnover.
"Universities tend to have a more open information technology architecture," Stephens said, according to Southern Maryland Online. "You have various parties operating within the system - you've got students, you have teachers, you have faculty, you have administration staff, and so on."
Data protection management can be a challenge, but universities put their reputations and information integrity at risk without proper safeguards. UbiStor's SafeStor solution, for example, can help institutions modernize and centralize their data protection and archival systems. By investing in a proven, comprehensive protective system, institutions can transform their systems from severely outdated into sleek, real-time data protection management tools.
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