The University Challenge – How to Protect Higher Education Institutions from Cyber Crime

March 21, 2016
The University Challenge – How to Protect Higher Education Institutions from Cyber Crime

The continuous challenge that organisations face to protect personal data and intellectual property from cyber attack is something that is constantly making news – with many companies severely impacted by attacks that have resulted in damage to their reputation as well as their financial results. Both the general public and other businesses are increasingly intolerant of working with organisations that neglect cyber security as they become ever more aware of these attacks and the impact they can potentially have.

In today’s digital society and economy, data has fast become one of the most valuable assets any organisation can have and many now understand the steps they need to take to robustly protect it. In the UK university sector, a strong reputation for innovation, creativity and research at a global level leads to increased student numbers and inbound investment from companies and governments, which are both critical in a very competitive global educational market.

It is in this context that VMware undertook a survey to gain some insight into the awareness and preparedness of UK universities to protect student and research data from threat. Of the 75 IT decision makers (including CIOs and CISOs) at the 50 universities across the UK we questioned, a quarter (25%) admit to having had critical intellectual property (IP) data infiltrated. This relates to highly confidential and valuable data including national defence, social, economic and medical research. Furthermore, we found:

  • More than two in five (43%) of respondents confirmed that they have had student IP infiltrated, including dissertation materials and exam results
  • Some of the greatest threats posed by cyber attacks come internally, with more than six in ten (63%) claiming domestic students pose a threat to data
  • In response to the rising number of cyber attacks, 85 percent of UK universities agree that more funding must be given to IT security to protect critical research IP and over a quarter (27%) believed that the security of their private on-premise data centre (in which a lot of their critical data sits), is ‘inadequate’ and in urgent need of being updated
  • Overall, nearly two thirds (64%) don’t believe their existing IT infrastructure will be sufficient in protecting against cyber attacks in next 12-18 months

Protecting our Uni’s from cyber crime is therefore vital if the UK is to remain as one of the world’s top research and innovation destinations; it has to be a board level issue both in the commercial and public sector world. If UK universities are to continue attracting the best students from both home and abroad, damage to reputation through cyber attacks and associated data breaches can create a serious threat to their ability to compete for applications and associated funding.

The role of the IT department has never been more important in protecting growth and reputation. IT leaders need to collaborate closely with the rest of the university board to ensure protection against hacking, cyber theft and espionage. Aligning the IT infrastructure, applications and data which Universities are protecting with security policies, products and people, is critical to protecting against current and future threats.

For more information and advice, download our full whitepaper here –

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