Cyber Security Becomes a Rising Concern for Colleges and Universities

Today, institutions of higher education are seeing a greater frequency of Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. However, many of Acquia’s customers have found a path to success. Here's how.

Security in Higher Education

Today, institutions of higher education are seeing a greater frequency of Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. As digital teams work to develop and grow their institution’s web presence, there are foundational considerations that must be taken into account to ensure that universities maintain site security and top performance. End users, such as students, faculty, and alumni, have also come to expect that their information is secure and that the sites be accessible and performant. With all of these considerations in mind, universities must place a greater emphasis on developing secure and scalable digital platforms. Security and cloud infrastructures have become increasingly important in achieving these goals.

Higher education institutions are of unique interest, as security threats like these can have a major effect on a university’s ability to provide the proper services and resources to their stakeholders. The scope of information that is provided through the breadth of web properties that universities offer can have serious implications if inaccessible or compromised. For example, educational institutions have become responsible for providing secure payment portals and student identification information as a service to their user. While cloud security requirements have hardened to defend against compromising incidences, according to Akamai’s State of the Internet Q4 2016 report, DDoS attacks over 100 Gbps increased 140 percent year-over-year from Q4 2015, indicating that these trends are not going away anytime soon. In fact, malicious actors have been known to repeatedly attack their targets an average of 24 times.

The risks in forgoing security considerations can be profound. Aside from the reputational hazards in having web properties become inaccessible during crucial periods such as enrollments, admissions and testing, there are significant cost implications for poor site performance during such events. Cloud-based infrastructure providers manage site uptime SLAs, which could lead to significant unplanned increases in hardware costs if additional resources are required to keep sites performing through periods of malicious activity. Institutions managing on premise data centers could see unforeseen costs, in overtime staffing, lost business opportunities, or loss of data.

The damages provoked by DDoS attacks are significant, and can have a severe effect on a university’s resources and brand. Rutgers University experienced six DDoS attacks in 2015. Previous incidents led to Rutgers spending upwards of $3 million in added infrastructure to prevent service degradation from DDoS attacks, yet further attacks proved the added infrastructure futile, causing some sites to fail for upwards of five days. As a result of one of the attacks in September 2015, more than 1,000 students signed a petition requesting tuition refunds due to service inaccessibility.

So what are some of the available options in mitigating DDoS attacks at the infrastructure or application layer? As technology advances, cyber attacks like DDoS continue to increase in complexity and scale. Long-standing techniques that have proven effective in the past are no longer suitable to combat the sophisticated attacks of late. Some of these methods include “black-holing,” router filtering and manual, reactive responses such as IP black/white-listing.  However, more advanced attacks call for more sophisticated and comprehensive solutions. A managed DDoS mitigation solution sets leverage extensive libraries of known DDoS IP sources, and extensive cloud-based networks can prove effective against the most sophisticated, large-scale attacks. Multi-vector security solutions can provide comprehensive security against data-compromising malware attacks. For example, solutions such as Acquia Cloud Edge provide a cloud based content delivery network and web application firewall used to prevent DDoS and application level attacks. Edge Protect provides a layer of security between site visitors and the web applications that blocks attack traffic before it can reach your institution's digital properties.

With security-related incidences becoming ever more prevalent, the onus turns to the institution to determine if the course of action is to be proactive or reactive in defending against the inevitability of an attack. Many of Acquia’s customers have found a path to success. Reach out to learn how.  

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