The back-to-school season is a busy time and apparently, not just for students. A new study performed by security firm BitSight Technologies revealed that the nation’s colleges and universities are victims of an increased number of attacks during the school year.
In fact, the study revealed the higher education sector poses an even higher risk than the retail and healthcare industries.
“From social security and credit card numbers to health records and intellectual property produced by research departments, colleges and universities house a vast amount of sensitive data,” said Stephen Boyer, co-founder and CTO of BitSight.
“While not surprising given the unique challenges universities face securing open campus networks, it’s concerning to see that they are rating so far below other industries that we’ve seen plagued by recent security problems,” Boyer added.
The firm’s research focused on the network security of college campuses in the major athletic conferences (Pacific-12, Big 10, Big 12, Southeastern Conference, Atlantic Coast Conference and Ivy League) from July 2013 to June 2014.
Key findings from the study discovered colleges and universities ranked an average of 600 on the firm’s security preparedness scale, ranging from 250 to 900, with higher scores meaning higher security performance.
Although all industries saw weaker defenses during the school year, the education sector showed considerably lower security preparedness scores than the retail and healthcare industries, which have been continuously breached this year.
Boyer stated, “School security defenses likely weaken because of the influx of students and devices on campus networks.”
Another major security threat for higher education institutions are the increased levels of malware infections. The most prevalent malicious software appeared to come from Flashback malware targeting Apple computers, while other common malware infections on campus included Ad-ware, targeting users through online ads, and Conficker, targeting the Microsoft Windows operating systems.
Boyer highlighted the fact that institutions of higher education are often interconnected with other organizations, including government agencies. “It’s really important to realize that cybersecurity is a systemic problem. We are all on the same network and problems in one area can lead to problem in another.”
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