How to Protect Your Campus from Data Breaches

Posted on 13 December 2016 |

how to protect your campus from data breachesAlmost every day, it seems like an organization reports that its data has been compromised. Whether it’s Social Security numbers, credit card data or medical records, no company is safe from cybercriminals.

And while most of the larger more publicized breaches took place in the corporate sector, they are becoming more and more prevalent on college campuses because colleges and universities are a gold mine when it comes to identity theft. Databases holding student info, such as Social Security numbers, are a “hackers delight.”

In a recent breach at Michigan State University, hackers exposed 400,000 student records. And while the hackers only accessed 449 records, it will likely cost the school $3 million to fix. While this number may be smaller than average (an IBM study says between $3.8-$4 million) it goes to show that this data is valuable—and hackers want it.

Below, we will investigate how these hackers target campuses and what you can do to protect yours.

How are Hackers Targeting Campuses?


There are a multitude of ways a hacker can access a campus database. One popular way, and the one that occurred at MSU, is through ransomware. As the name implies, the hacker will present a ransom for the data at hand.

The National Law Review states that hackers are “turning their focus to smaller, data dependent entities where stolen data or entire IT systems can be held hostage.” By focusing on these smaller entities, hackers can receive a ransom upfront. This is much easier than trying to sell a list of credit cards or Social Security numbers.


Other popular forms of hacking include malware and phishing attempts. Malware is a piece of software installed on a computer intended to damage the computer or network. These pieces of software give a hacker access to valuable information or records.

In 2013, a piece of malware infected a workstation at UMASS Amherst's Center for Language, Speech and Hearing, and released the health information of 1,670 people—which is a potential HIPAA violation. UMASS did not have a firewall, nor did they have procedures in place to avoid an attack like this. And all it took was one infected workstation for this information to get released.


Like malware, phishing is another popular way hackers access to your information. But, instead of accessing it through software, phishing generally revolves around social engineering techniques.

Phishing attempts generally come through as emails, which look legitimate to the untrained eye, but they are far from it. For example, the email may alert the user that their account has been compromised or password needs changing. Since these emails look legit, and they are sent out to thousands of people, someone is bound to fall for it. And it only takes one for the hack to be a success.

How Can You Protect Your Campus from Hackers?

Increase and Update Security Systems

While these examples sound intimidating, there are a few precautions that you can take to reduce your risk. First, you should increase your security systems. While it won't stop all hackers, having an up-to-date firewall and virus scan will make it more difficult for them to access sensitive data. Plus, you must keeping your systems up-to-date because it will also help prevent users from downloading unsafe software.

Security Awareness Training

In addition to increasing and updating systems, security awareness training should be a top priority. Teaching employees to identify a breach or a phishing email is imperative for keeping your information safe. And it is always better to be proactive than reactive when it comes to cybersecurity.

Restrict Access to Data

Finally, always make sure to restrict access to sensitive student data. Only give people who need access to these records permission to use them. Following these steps is a great way to reduce risk and assure your data stays safe.


Campuses are at more of a risk than ever when it comes to cybersecurity. Hackers are coming up with newer and more creative ways to gain access to your data, which why you must be proactive to prevent these intrusions.

Be sure to let us know any tips or tricks you use in the comments below!

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