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Cyber Security Awareness - Why Higher Education Institutions Need To Address Digital Threats

In order to provide adequate personnel and resources to combat and stop these threats, higher education institutions need to see the bigger picture of intense cyber security threats that can do more damage than a hacker stealing someone's email login.
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Champlain College hosts Department of Homeland Security Roundtable. Jonathan Rajewski (Left) and two Department of Homeland Security professionals tour the Senator Patrick Leahy Center for Digital Investigation on Champlain College's campus. Douglas Smith (Center) is the Assistant Secretary for the Private Sector.

Prior to the first Cyber Security Awareness Month in October 2004, discussions on national security had very little to do with technology. However, due to the increasing threat of domestic and international cyber attacks on America's public and private infrastructure after 9/11, a need arose to promote cyber security beyond simple computer password protection. Sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security's National Cyber Security Division (NCSD) and the nonprofit National Cyber Security Alliance, Cyber Security Awareness Month is a time to promote security awareness among all participants in the digital sphere. Of course, the concept is much more advanced than merely password protecting computers and mobile devices. A recent article in Computer Weekly reported that cyber attacks, whether like recent ones by the Syrian Digital Army or various groups of computer hackers, will rise significantly in the next decade.

Higher education is one sector at exceptionally high risk of devastating attacks. Colleges and universities report astounding rates of cyber attacks, with millions of hacking attempts into information systems weekly. While social security and bank account numbers are always at risk, higher education institutions are also vulnerable to losing valuable intellectual property such as patents awarded to professors and students, as well as personal information of students, faculty and staff. Because of the frequency of cyber attacks on institutions of higher learning, the need for increased cyber awareness has never been greater.

To address these issues and promote cyber security proactivity among higher education institutions, some of the foremost minds in information security will come together at the "Being Data Aware Conference" at Middlebury College in Vermont. Cyber security does not exist in a vacuum of everyday measures to keep personal devices and information secure. During the conference, legal and information technology experts, and cyber criminologists will discuss this concept and promote higher education's role as a first line of defense in keeping sensitive infrastructures safe.

In addition to promoting advanced security and digital forensic measures, Cyber Security Awareness Month initiatives like the aforementioned conference address emerging technologies and how they are integrated into the cyber security sphere. Google Glass, one such technology, is raising interest (and eyebrows) in the digital sphere, and is expected to be widely available in 2014. I was lucky enough to secure my own pair earlier this year, and can certainly see how this technology could face major security breaches like other digital devices.

With its ability to be manipulated by touch, gesture or voice control, Google Glass can be used to view and send information such as email and text messages, directions and search results. Because of these features, Google Glass has the potential to completely disrupt the current technology world and how the higher education industry views data security.

The "Being Data Aware" conference will allow participants like myself to engage with higher education personnel on the impact of Google Glass on their industry, as well as its affects on the marketing, education and information technology sectors, and potential security threats the device may pose and the safeguards that are being discussed and developed in response to them. With the limited distribution of Google Glass among developers and adopters, many unintended uses are being fully explored and exploited; anticipation has reached a rolling boil for those interested in the product's commercial availability.

Cyber Security Awareness Month as a whole is about more than run-of-the-mill recommendations about periodically changing passwords. Conference attendees and everyone in the higher education industry need to know about the real-life problems of identity theft and cyber attacks that can devastate a university's infrastructure and its personnel's livelihood.

There are a myriad of ways personal information can be breached, including viruses imbedded in PDF files, long thought to be immune to such threats. In order to provide adequate personnel and resources to combat and stop these threats, higher education institutions need to see the bigger picture of intense cyber security threats that can do more damage than a hacker stealing someone's email login. There is a reason Cyber Security Awareness Month was instituted nearly a decade ago, and why digital professionals seek to bring higher education professionals into higher-level security discussions. It is not enough just to entertain the idea of advanced cyber security in higher education, but action must be taken, as the future of many institutions across the country depends on it.

Jonathan Rajewski is the Director of Senator Patrick Leahy Center for Digital Investigation and Assistant Professor of Computer & Digital Forensics at Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont, a private institution that offers bachelor's and master's degrees in professionally-focused programs balanced by an interdisciplinary core curriculum.