Tightening the reigns on your app and internet policies doesn’t mean restricting freedom. It's the only way to protect your institution's valuable research data and to preserve the privacy of staff and students.
Network security isn't only a concern for businesses and government. Recent US research from BitSight revealed that the education sector is a prime target for hackers, with nearly four times as much ransomware in its systems as the healthcare sector, and nearly nine times as much as the financial sector.
Universities and colleges make tempting targets not only because of the unique data they keep, but because misguided concerns over academic openness mean that so many still leave their gates wide open.
It’s time to take control
In a BYOD (bring-your-own-device) environment, you can’t control every potentially infected laptop and device being used around your campus. But you can, and should, control what they access through your servers.
In an academic environment, internet technology decision-makers (ITDMs) can find themselves facing resistance but it’s your responsibility to convince academics and administrators alike that beefing up security won’t compromise their ideals.
From financial information to research data, a university has many of the same assets as a business. So when it comes to security, you need to treat it like one. It’s also your responsibility to protect the personal information and intellectual property of staff and students, who will all be at risk if you don’t have the appropriate safeguards in place.
How to justify these restrictions
Website blocking is routinely justified in the US, Australia and many other countries to prevent malware, investment fraud, copyright infringement, terrorism and other malicious activity, so there’s plenty of precedent.
If you do find yourself needing to justify controlling access to suspicious websites, app downloads or file sharing through torrents or cloud lockers, the risk of malware should be reason enough.
Blocking or limiting the bandwidth available for file sharing will also reduce the illegal consumption of copyrighted materials on campus, which shows that your university respects the creators’ intellectual property.
Then there’s the practicality of preserving bandwidth. Peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing consumes a lot of network resources, which slows things down for legitimate users. The same applies to streaming services and that other controversial culprit – pornography.
While universities don’t have the same excuse as high schools and public network – that they’re protecting children from seeing inappropriate content – the risk of illegal materials and viruses appearing on these sites is another justification for blocking access altogether.
How to block undesired websites
When choosing the method for restricting access to websites, you need to consider your department’s resources and budget.
Internet Protocol (IP) address blocking – the cheapest method, but also the least effective as IP addresses can be quickly changed.
Domain Name Server (DNS) blocking – permanently blocks access to undesired sites at only slightly more expense, though easily circumvented.
Uniform Resource Locator (URL) blocking – more precise, but requires the greatest investment of time and money to configure correctly.
When you’re surrounded by the best and brightest, there are always going to be people who can circumvent the restrictions you put in place by using a virtual private network (VPN) or more advanced techniques. The important thing is that you’re significantly reducing the risks and encouraging students to break bad habits.
With quality filters in place, you can make sure that legitimate websites and apps won’t be blocked by mistake, while protecting students, faculties and your institution alike.