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Why IT security is a critical part of every learning environment

11 Sep 2017

Educational environments may have to cope with hundreds of devices connected to a network at any one time, but many institutions don’t have a plan to mitigate the security risks that arise from network usage, according to Wavelink.

Network devices can range from in-school equipment such as laptops and phones to bring-your-own and student devices, all of which run on different operating systems and with different security features installed.

“Education institutions rely on technology delivered through the network for learning. If a device is breached or brings down the network then learning stops. One of the threats, among many affecting schools, is ransomware such as CryptoLocker, which can cause havoc by completely locking the network down,” comments Manuja Wijesekera, Wavelink pre-sales solutions architect for Fortinet.

Wavelink believes that educational institutions much have a policy for introducing devices to a network, but this requires the right technology and governance, as well as a security culture that makes staff and students aware of the risk.

“While many schools might not have the resources in-house for this, they can find a partner that can walk them through this journey. The right partner can guide them in making important decisions about how to manage security at an appropriate level to minimise the risk to the institution. For example, a partner would be able to advise on the appropriate level of technical access levels for staff and students or an effective backup strategy that the school can use,” Wijesekera explains.

He believes it is important to start the journey towards better security, because doing nothing at all is the biggest possible mistake institutions could make.

“Some schools might be starting from nothing, which creates a real reluctance to start at all because it seems too overwhelming to fix everything at once. However, the important thing is just to start the journey ensuring it includes technology, governance, and awareness. Start small and improve over time. Gather metrics along the way that demonstrate the value of security in improving business operations so that the budget will also continue to grow with the program,” Wijesekera explains.

Wavelink suggests that educational institutions should look for security partners that are able to conduct cyber threat assessments. By doing so, institutions will understand how they sit in terms of security risk and will also receive the information they need to achieve an acceptable risk level in the next 12-24 months.

“In addition, reach out to other similar organisations to understand what they’re doing and even look at government resources to see how they can help. Not everything is a cost, and there are many free resources to get started with,” Wijesekera explains.

“It’s also useful to make it personal for teachers and students so they know the effect a security breach can have on them. Put security programs in place that include the whole school community,” he concludes.

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