Business Continuity in Higher Education: 3 Threats to Consider 

by | Oct 31, 2016

Understanding the Importance of Business Continuity in Higher Education

What does business continuity in higher education look like today? At a time when colleges and universities are more reliant than ever on IT, it’s critical for administrators to place greater focus on securing their schools’ networks and data.

“Institutions have become increasingly dependent on IT in the areas of student life, learning, and administration,” writes Marilyn Ayres McMillan for EDUCAUSE, a nonprofit group that helps administrators understand the role of IT in higher education. “Automated information systems and the technologies that support them are among the institutions’ most precious—and most vulnerable—assets.”

Arguably the most important component of those systems is the data that passes through them: sensitive administration files, students’ personal information, accounting data, campus email and so forth. Even a partial or temporary loss of data can have a devastating effect on a school. This is why it’s so critical for a university business continuity plan to incorporate solutions for securely backing up that data and rapidly restoring it after a disaster.

1) Fire, flooding, and other physical threats

Business continuity in higher education is not a new concept. Most schools have been backing up their data for decades. But how and where those backups occur is more important than ever. Far too many institutions are relying on outdated technology that leaves their data at risk.

Consider a West Coast university that sits on active earthquake fault lines. Even if the school is storing its backups offsite, at a data center across the city, that data center would be equally at risk in a severe earthquake.

Not only that, but traditional backups are notorious for data corruption and painfully long recovery. Data losses that take days or weeks to recover (if they can be recovered at all) can be extremely costly for any school.

This is just one example of how a natural disaster, or even a terrorist attack, can compromise a school’s systems and its bottom line. And it’s why institutions are strongly advised to consider today’s advanced backup solutions like Datto, which provide virtually instant data recovery, along with the assurance of backups being stored locally and in the cloud via Datto’s bicoastal data centers.

2) Malware

Malware is arguably a far greater (and more common) threat than the physical threats outlined above, at least in terms of the danger to electronic information. Schools must proactively defend against all categories of malware, which are rapidly evolving. But that’s only one part of the picture. Today, a business continuity plan in higher education must also include protocols for restoring data if it has been compromised by viruses, Trojans, spyware and other malware.

Consider a piece of malware that goes undetected on your campus networks because it is new and unrecognized by your anti-malware technology. It corrupts data to the point of making it unrecoverable. Now, let’s pretend it is contained (mercifully) to the data within your financial aid department: all the information on your student aid packages, government subsidies, delivery of scholarships, emails and so on.

Imagine losing all of that data. How would it impact the school’s operations? How much would it cost to piece the information back together? How would it affect the school’s reputation?

This is a prime example of why schools must think beyond a simple business continuity plan template. With solutions like Datto, higher education facilities can depend on technology to secure and rapidly restore that critical data—without the corruptive problems and other headaches that are common with outdated backup solutions.

3) Ransomware

Ransomware is essentially malware that holds your data at ransom. The malware prevents access to your data and the attackers behind the malware demand large sums of money to restore access.

Ransomware is on the rise, and higher education is increasingly one of the targets. In June 2016, the University of Calgary paid $20,000 CDN to recover emails that had been encrypted by ransomware for a week.

The threat of ransomware requires the same safeguards as other malware mentioned above. But because of the extra layers of complexity and cost, every school should address the specific risks of ransomware within their college business continuity plan.

With a sound backup solution like Datto, institutions wouldn’t need to pay those hefty ransoms. As with each type of disaster outlined above, schools could quickly restore data from their secure backup and maintain operations with next-to-zero system downtime.

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Tracy Rock is the Director of Marketing at Invenio IT. Tracy is responsible for all media-related initiatives as well as external communications—including, branding, public relations, promotions, advertising and social media. She is one busy lady and we are lucky to have her!

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