How automation can help higher education institutions enhance their cybersecurity strategies
The higher education sector has been the target of a number of potentially devastating cyber-attacks. While up to a thousand attacks take place in higher education institutions across the UK each year, they became more prevalent after the pandemic forced institutions to begin operating largely online.
With cyber-attacks and breaches often leading to data theft, financial repercussions, and reputational damage, cybersecurity is understandably moving higher up the agenda for many higher education institutions. This is where the implementation of technologies such as intelligent automation, alongside robust cybersecurity strategies, will prove beneficial.
While many institutions are likely to have automated certain workflows, including the application process, further benefits can be gained by extending their use of automation technologies. Within cybersecurity, automation has the potential to improve a variety of cybersecurity processes and practices, making them faster, more efficient, and more effective.
Monitoring network traffic
Alongside transparent cybersecurity strategies which include best practices, such as backing up data and keep it offline at certain points on a regular basis, automating monitoring of network traffic can drastically improve security. Historically, a process that required human input 24/7, monitoring network traffic can be automated by use of robotic process automation (RPA) technologies which constantly scrutinise traffic. This technology can determine patterns in traffic more quickly and easily than a human, ensuring that any anomalies that could be indicative of nefarious activities are spotted and flagged immediately so necessary actions can be taken.
By fully automating this process, instances of error will be significantly reduced and those staff members who would have previously been responsible for monitoring networks can focus on using the insights gained to make more informed decisions and adding value where it matters most: the student experience.
This type of automation has been used in financial services for fraud detection, for example, for some time and has become an effective way of helping financial institutions to keep customers safe. Its application within higher education will help institutions to safeguard their networks and by extension their students and employees who are using those networks.
Rapid response to breaches
Further to this, higher education institutions should review how they will react in the event of a security breach and consider the possibility of shutting down entire network or system for a period, if required. This could be automated by using Application Programming Interface (APIs) which link each of the application devices used by an institution, across campuses and departments, and allow data and messages to be shared between them.
In the event of a network breach, using integration technologies and open standards, such as REST, each of these devices will be instructed to make individual decisions to protect themselves and block data being leaked. This ability to react immediately to a threat will help institutions to control security incidents and reduce the risks that come with data breaches, reputational damage and fiscal penalties.
With many thousands of staff and students to protect, active two-factor authentication should be considered to give every network user an extra element of security. Institutions could also consider the use of intelligent facial recognition technologies which ensure only the intended user is able to access certain devices or applications.
Reaping the rewards of automation across the institution
As higher education institutions explore how to make their cybersecurity strategies more robust to cope with increasing and changing threats, automating some of their security processes will give them the capabilities to identify issues and respond to attacks and breaches more rapidly and effectively. This approach will also allow them to redeploy employees to tasks, such as strategy and decision-making, where they will have a bigger impact on the organisation and experience they are offering students.
With many organisations still undergoing digital transformation, higher education institutions should work with technology partners to understand where else they could implement automation to greatest effective. Whether their main focus is improving cybersecurity, enhancing the student and business experience, or cost savings, automation can help them achieve those goals and realise a wide range of benefits, from improved predictability to higher levels of accuracy.
Laura is techUK’s Programme Manager for Technology and Innovation.
She supports the application and expansion of emerging technologies across business, including Geospatial Data, Quantum Computing, AR/VR/XR and Edge technologies.
Before joining techUK, Laura worked internationally in London, Singapore and across the United States as a conference researcher and producer covering enterprise adoption of emerging technologies. This included being part of the strategic team at London Tech Week.
Laura has a degree in History (BA Hons) from Durham University, focussing on regional social history. Outside of work she loves reading, travelling and supporting rugby team St. Helens, where she is from.
Sue leads techUK's Technology and Innovation work.
This includes work programmes on cloud, data protection, data analytics, AI, Digital Identity and Internet of Things as well as emerging and transformative technologies and innovation policy. She has been recognised as one of the most influential women in UK tech by Computer Weekly and as a key influencer in driving forward the Big Data agenda in the UK Big Data 100. Sue has also been shortlisted for the Milton Keynes Women Leaders Awards and was a judge for the Loebner Prize in AI. In addition to being a regular industry speaker on issues including AI ethics, data protection and cyber security, Sue was recently a judge for the UK Tech 50 and is a regular judge of the annual UK Cloud Awards.
Prior to joining techUK in January 2015 Sue was responsible for Symantec's Government Relations in the UK and Ireland. She has spoken at events including the UK-China Internet Forum in Beijing, UN IGF and European RSA on issues ranging from data usage and privacy, cloud computing and online child safety. Before joining Symantec, Sue was senior policy advisor at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI). Sue has an BA degree on History and American Studies from Leeds University and a Masters Degree on International Relations and Diplomacy from the University of Birmingham. Sue is a keen sportswoman and in 2016 achieved a lifelong ambition to swim the English Channel.
Zoe is a Programme Assistant, supporting techUK's work across Policy, Technology and Innovation.
The team makes the tech case to government and policymakers in Westminster, Whitehall, Brussels and across the UK on the most pressing issues affecting this sector and supports the Technology and Innovation team in the application and expansion of emerging technologies across business, including Geospatial Data, Quantum Computing, AR/VR/XR and Edge technologies.
Before joining techUK, Zoe worked as a Business Development and Membership Coordinator at London First and prior to that Zoe worked in Partnerships at a number of Forex and CFD brokerage firms including Think Markets, ETX Capital and Central Markets.
Zoe has a degree (BA Hons) from the University of Westminster and in her spare time, Zoe enjoys travelling, painting, keeping fit and socialising with friends.