The strategic value of Australian Universities to cyber criminals and nation state actors

The cybersecurity practices of Australian universities are in the spotlight after the recent significant breach of Australian National University’s (ANU) IT systems.

The FBI has published that up to 26 Australian universities were targeted in a sustained hacking campaign between 2013-2017, believed to have been funded by the Iranian government.

Such attacks are proof of the value placed by cyber criminals and other nation states on intellectual property, business data, social data, and private information held by Australian universities. Key examples include the personal information and financial records of students and the valuable intellectual property being generated every day. The value of this information will continue to increase as today’s students become tomorrow’s leaders, politicians or employees of government, business and security bodies.

Underpinning the university’s role as a supplier of education is a complex network of systems, critical in the operation of facilities and continued provision of services for their student cohort (on-campus and online).

In addition to the growth of the attack surface for universities is the growing complexity of their networks, now often stretching across multiple campuses, both nationally and internationally.

With this increasing complexity comes a reduced capacity to achieve and maintain network wide visibility, detect a network compromise and respond in a timely manner. To make matters worse, institutions are often operating with limited human and technological resources attributed to cyber defence.

Universities must also contend with a multitude of vulnerabilities inherent with the provision of teaching and research services to their students and staff. Students and staff bring their own laptops and mobile devices onto campus and remote network access is a necessity for individuals from across the globe.

Each device, every connection, is a vulnerability that can be exploited to gain access to critical systems and information elsewhere on the network.

The risk for a university is unlike a public company, which has the resources to ensure the latest patches and anti-malware are installed on devices accessing their network. Universities operate on different rules and simply don’t have the authority to control applications or devices that connect to its networks from student and staff devices.

For the university sector both nationally and internationally, it is clear the exposure to cyber risk needs to be carefully managed to protect the safety and productivity of university operations, whilst also facilitating confidence in future projects and efforts to expand a university’s digital commitment.

If you want to learn about the Sapien solution to provide both enterprise wide network visibility and advanced threat detection that is already helping an Australian university to protect its network read more here.