Deluge of student devices putting campus networks under growing threat

News by Grace Johansson

Eighty-one percent of campus IT professionals have said that securing networks used by students and faculty has become more difficult in the past two years due in part to the proliferation of connected devices.

Eighty-one percent of campus IT professionals have said that securing networks used by students and faculty has become more difficult in the past two years due in part to the proliferation of connected devices.

Over 600 students, IT professionals and staff from higher education institutions in the US, UK and Germany were surveyed by Infoblox in the report entitled "Defending Networks at Higher Learning Institutions – Heroes Needed". The report found that networks at higher education institutions are becoming increasingly complex, making them more vulnerable to attack.

While students two years ago mainly brought laptops and smartphones with them, in the internet of things age students are using tablets (61 percent), smartwatches (27 percent) and gaming consoles (25 percent) on campus, leading to a dramatic increase in the number of devices connecting to networks.

Internal threats are also a risk factor for higher education according to the IT administrators, 48 percent of whom believe that the greatest security risks come from within the campus. According to 54 percent of IT administrators, 25 percent of students devices come onto campus already infected with malware, and one in three students know a fellow classmate who has attempted a malicious act on the school’s network.

However, students are not the only ones to blame for poor network practices, with 60 percent of faculty and staff failing to secure their network connections and 57 percent using out-of-date security measures. The authors of the report said that a lack of security education is the major contributor to weaknesses in educational networks.

Beyond user error, outdated network technology poses another challenge. Seventy-one percent of students and faculty revealed that the campus networks suffer performance issues at least once a month.

"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 cyber-attack if proper network security measures are not in place."

While looking at global data, Germany was the least confident in terms of campus networks, with 75 percent of people noting that they felt their 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.

Higher education institutions need to gain visibility into all connected devices to prevent unwanted network threats, Infoblox said.

Sarb Sembhi, CTO & CISO, Virtually Informed commented "The university sector has for a long time tried to maintain an environment of uncontrolled use of the Internet, which goes back to the Internet originating in academia. Unfortunately, as has been pointed out often by so many security experts, the whole of the infrastructure at that time was based on trust and that we are a long way away from that today. However, the university sector in most countries has tried to hold on to not restraining student use (and very often abuse) of the Internet, which has led to many of the findings in this report.

"For me the report seems to illustrate what universities should have been doing is preparing the leaders of tomorrow on issues such as privacy, risk and security, so that they are prepared for whatever the online world will throw at them.

"Everywhere we access the internet we are subjected to a set of rules to protect us and everyone else, the sooner universities start to manage and control their networks at the same time as educating students and staff on risk and security the sooner they will make their networks safer for all who use them. Both things must happen to bring about a lasting change, as the rise of devices (as the report identifies), may impact in unforeseen ways."

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