Adopting a Zero-Trust Strategy in Higher Education

Zero Trust_education

Higher education institutions such as colleges and universities have been increasingly becoming the targets of cyberattacks in the past few years. Unfortunately, many institutions are simply unprepared to protect themselves from such attacks properly.

Zero Trust strategy

What is a zero-trust strategy?

A zero-trust strategy is an approach used in cybersecurity that eliminates implicit trust by primarily using continuous validation at different stages of interactions within a system. Essentially, the zero-trust strategy can be expressed in a single phrase – “trust nothing, validate everything.” By checking and checking and checking everything continuously, organizations can significantly decrease the risk of security breaches, data theft, and so on.

Many organizations both in higher education and other fields have systems where implicit trust is extremely evident. To put it simply, the actions of different users and apps are inherently trusted which means it is much easier for malicious attackers to infiltrate the system of their chosen target. But by using the zero-trust strategy, institutions can start validating, authenticating, verifying, and authorizing every action at different stages. This reduces the risk of cyberattacks and prevents potential breaches.

Why do higher education institutions need it?

If you are still unconvinced that a particular university or college can benefit from implementing the zero-trust strategy, there are quite a few points that will likely make you reconsider your opinion. As explained earlier, higher education institutions are attacked more than they have ever been before. In fact, in 2020, the DDoS attacks on educational institutions increased by 350% between January and June of that year.

In general, universities and colleges are perceived as easier targets because attackers believe that they have less protected systems compared to those of governmental or financial institutions. Besides, higher education institutions usually have extensive databases with the personal information of both students and staff members. Likewise, institutions that focus on research may have valuable findings that can also be stolen by cybercriminals. If institutions don’t protect themselves properly, they can become victims of such attacks.

The problem is not just that universities and colleges seem like very attractive targets but also the fact that students and staff members alike aren’t particularly educated and informed about cybersecurity. For example, it’s normal for professors to search for the best free plagiarism checker for students and then tell their class to use that tool to check their assignments before submitting them. The professor may have good intentions, but some tools like that can be malicious software in disguise which is used by attackers.

Some attackers create complex attack patterns to target institutions while others resort to tried and true traditional methods that sadly still can be very effective. From malware to phishing tactics, there are many ways for a university’s system to be infiltrated even by a single cybercriminal. This is precisely why more and more higher education institutions are starting to implement the zero-trust strategy. It is by far one of the best solutions to the issue.

How to implement the zero-trust strategy?

Zero trust_High education

It is important to remember that implementing a zero-trust strategy to the entire system of a specific institution takes time. A lot of planning is involved because you need to know what you want to do before you embark on your zero-trust journey. Here are the most important tips that will help you implement a zero-trust strategy successfully:

  •       Make Immediate Changes: Start by identifying quick wins or changes you can make immediately and see results. Make use of your current resources before you start looking for ways to execute major changes.
  •       Perform an Audit: Carefully analyze your system to get a clear picture of its strengths and weaknesses. You can also get a consultation with a cybersecurity expert who can give you actionable tips on what you can do to improve.
  •       Work with All Three Pillars: Work with all three of the aforementioned aspects of your system i.e. users, applications, and infrastructure. Only by implementing the zero-trust strategy in all three of these will you be able to see good results.
  •       Hire Professionals: Perhaps the best way to implement the zero-trust strategy is by letting professionals handle everything. Don’t hesitate to find a good cybersecurity agency that can help you with the changes you want to make in your system.

While implementing the zero-trust strategy, you will need to keep in mind a couple of things that will play a critical role in the long-term success of the changes you make:

  •       Request verification explicitly and use multi-factor authentication (MFA). Use multiple types of data available to you (e.g. identity, network data, endpoint, etc.) to verify users, devices, and application.
  •       Utilize least privileged access (LPA) to limit the access opportunities users have to get ahold of certain resources, devices, applications, and environments. When there is less privilege and access, there are fewer opportunities for attackers to move laterally within the system after the initial breach (if it happens).
  •       Assume the worst thing that could happen has already happened (or at least, the initial stage of it has already begun). For instance, it is much better to assume that a breach has already happened or that it will likely happen very soon.
  •       Educate all your students and staff members about cybersecurity and specifically the zero-trust strategy you are implementing. By informing them about the way they should behave (e.g. avoid using questionable free software), you will already be reducing the risk of breaches.

Final thoughts

All in all, universities, colleges and higher education institutions can implement a zero-trust strategy to improve their cybersecurity as long as they do it correctly. Utilize different tools, including Cloudbric RAS, a remote access solution that will help you safely connect to your remote workspace and work with your team efficiently.

 

Check out Cloudbric’s product lines:

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Cloud-based DDoS attack defense service with edge computing: Cloudbric ADDoS

Zero Trust Network Access-based Remote Access Solution: Cloudbric RAS

Blockchain: Blockchain Security Solution

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Author:
E: maxmitchell336@gmail.com, Max Mitchell is a freelance writer. He is very passionate about typing, creating complicated spreadsheets, and consuming an inhuman amount of caffeine. Nevertheless, he is also the creative type of individual who will always find a new perspective on topics of interest.
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