Those of us with the privilege to work in education have an opportunity to shape the next generation to be more cyberaware and make our digital world a safer place. It’s an obligation we must all take seriously.
The threat environment is becoming more perilous, particularly with the growing use of artificial intelligence by hackers. The challenges coming our way in the future will best be met by a population that is informed, aware, and innately invested in cyber safety.
At the same time, cyber leaders at educational institutions today must deal with adversaries who increasingly view us as prime targets. Since institutions of higher education provide students, teachers, and researchers with full, unobstructed access to the resources they need, we’re vulnerable to all types of attacks. The challenge is exacerbated by the fact that our high-speed networks and powerful workstations provide fertile soil for botnets to spread harm broadly and quickly.
When cyber leaders in education view our most pressing challenges, it should be with the understanding that we’re not just practitioners–although that is of vital importance–but also teachers and role models. We need to practice what we preach, and we also need to preach what we practice.
As I look at today’s threat environment and the steps we can take to protect our institutions and provide guidance for the next generation, I see three key areas of opportunity:
- Focusing on cyber wellness
- Adopting a shared responsibility model
- Embracing secure software development
Here’s why I think these three areas of focus are key to enabling cyber resilience in education in 2023 and beyond.
Cyber wellness comes down to common sense. It’s a mindset. But people need to be informed. They must understand that cyber safety is always a top priority, and you never let down your guard, not even for a moment. For example, say a student receives an email from a teacher or faculty. Do they know to check that the email address is legitimate? That the request makes sense? That it comes from the actual person making the request? This may seem simple, but it’s quickly becoming more difficult in the era of AI-based attacks.
We’ve seen instances where adversaries showed a parent’s face on FaceTime. How do you counter that? Perhaps families should come up with a safe word or an understanding that they will call back to verify the identity of the caller and the legitimacy of the request.
As cyber leaders, we must create an environment where we are continually educating our staff, students, family, and friends. Encourage conversations. For example, discuss the new email phishing blasts in circulation and warn people about malicious behaviors to look out for.
We should also create a safe environment for people to share information, even if they’ve made a mistake by clicking on a phishing link. People learn a lot by talking to colleagues and friends. And just as we educate our staff, parents should also educate their children on proper cyber hygiene.
2. Shared responsibility model
Traditionally, most of us had infrastructure running in our data centers. Now, we have much more software as a service (SaaS)–more workloads in the cloud. Eventually, most on-premises applications and infrastructure are likely to move to a SaaS model.
Everyone and everything will be affected if an on-premises system goes down. But with a SaaS and cloud model, you are better able to define and mitigate risk and refrain from keeping all your eggs in one basket. In other words, moving to a SaaS model helps us reduce risk and do more with less.
Another advantage of adopting a shared responsibility model is to leverage the security capabilities of your cloud service providers. Companies like AWS, Microsoft, and Google invest heavily in securing their cloud products. Incorporating those tools into your environment means you benefit from their security.
This enables you to do more with less–a huge benefit for educational institutions–which typically do not have access to the same resources and budgets as large enterprises. It also offers the opportunity to leverage the latest innovations in cybersecurity, while improving your organization’s speed and agility.
3. Secure software development
Building security into all aspects of the development cycle is essential. This means embracing more cloud-native development, secure-by-design processes, a shift-left mindset, and infrastructure as code. None of us want to be in a situation where we have to go back and redo a key application or service because of a security gap that could have been addressed much earlier in the cycle.
I believe we should move towards a practice of continuous integration/continuous deployment, where our processes go beyond just the software development piece, into the product stage, and into the ways in which to monitor performance and security. Secure software design goes from development to the product stage to deployment and continuous monitoring. It’s a process that never ends.
The world is full of malicious actors and events. The question is: How do you use technology safely, and how do you take responsibility for your personal actions in cyberspace? These are the challenges we have to teach and put into practice.
Cyber wellness is at the top of the list, along with the shared responsibility model and secure software development. As cyber leaders and educators, we know that cybersecurity is an ongoing process that requires constant vigilance, ongoing training, and unrestrained communications.
Our students can learn from us and, like good teachers everywhere, we can learn from our students. Having the right mindset and focusing on issues, such as cyber wellness, gives us the opportunity to lay the proper foundation to prepare the next generation to face whatever cyber challenges come our way in 2023 and beyond.