The Biggest Cybersecurity Vulnerabilities Hiding Within Your Higher Ed Walls

Dawn Mallyon

September 3, 2020

With their multitudes of access points and extensive amounts of valuable information, universities and colleges are one of the most attractive organizations for cybercriminals to infiltrate. Today, hackers can buy attack kits on the black market or scale their invasion by using higher education’s predictable email addresses. 

Common Vulnerabilities Within Your IAM

As the threat landscape grows more complex, higher education is facing unique challenges when managing individual access permissions, collaborations with other organizations, and protecting the personal information of students, faculty, and staff. Understanding the most common vulnerabilities within your identity and access management (IAM) is the first step in preventing security breaches from happening.

1. Ever-Changing Populations 

Unlike a typical organization, a university or college onboards a new class of members (thousands of new users) every fall and offboards the graduating class (thousands more) each spring. Not to mention the professors, administration, and other staff members that are added and/or removed throughout the year. The sheer volume of identities being created and deleted on a regular basis provides hackers with plenty of opportunities to mount attacks and break into these accounts. 

2. Overlapping Roles

The unique structure of colleges and universities require complex systems, which can create opportunities for hackers when the right precautions are not taken. For example, it’s not uncommon for someone in a higher education institution to take on two different roles simultaneously (e.g., a student who is also a teacher’s assistant, a staff member who is also enrolled in classes, or an alum who eventually returns as a professor to teach). Privileged access systems that aren’t robust enough to support these multi-role requirements have the potential to expose confidential information and threaten the institution’s cybersecurity. 

3. Dynamic and Collaborative Partnerships

The higher education system inherently values collaboration and ease of use to achieve intellectual breakthroughs — whether through partnering with colleagues, other educational institutions, or those in the private sector. This connection to third parties often includes a massive volume of research findings and subscriptions to costly journals and services — information that hackers are particularly interested in because of its value in countries with limited access to data. 

4. Non-hierarchical Structures and Homegrown Solutions

Each department within a college or university may have its own unique structure and self-determined budget, which can create obstacles when aligning individual departments with the overarching system. Identities may not match up, or appropriate access can be incorrectly granted or completely blocked. Schools often use identity systems that were built by a group who may no longer be there. Because of the autonomous structures within higher education, individual departments have built solutions to secure their users’ identity and access, but these homegrown solutions can quickly become outdated and inefficient. An unorganized system leaves hackers with a plethora of weak spots where they can break in. 

5. Lax Login Credentials

In higher education, a user’s identity is often a single login that works across different systems the university or college uses. For example, a user’s login information for a billing system might be the same as their class information system. If institutions do not employ strict multi-factor authentication (MFA) practices, they may be at great risk of attack. Without MFA, bad actors can gain access to all of the user’s accounts and information with just one login. 

The Solution

With all of the unique challenges that can be found in higher education, it is critical to find an IAM solution that provides the features colleges and universities need to organize and automate the roles and access privilege of individual users. Paired with cybersecurity best practices, schools will have the tools they need to protect against common vulnerabilities and stop hacks before they happen.

Bravura Security's identity fabric contains the industry’s only single platform solution for Identity and Privileged Access Management. Bravura Security leverages decades of experience resulting in rock-solid reliability, performance and scalability. These solutions can help universities and colleges manage their users’ identities and access privilege in a faster, more affordable, and customizable way.