Addressing Higher Education Vulnerability Management
Organizations in the education sector face a litany of complicated security challenges driven by their need to protect IT assets and data while supporting networks that permit use by large numbers of individuals working across a wide range of academic and research pursuits. Engaging in frequent, proactive penetration testing using our products to safely replicate real-world hacking and malware threats empowers security professionals in higher education to isolate and prioritize their most critical vulnerabilities to more effectively address risks, ensure that defensive mechanisms are functioning properly, and prepare for mandated compliance audits.
Assessing Exposure to Potential Data Breaches
A quick look at the chronological list of data breaches recorded by the nonprofit Privacy Rights Clearinghouse reveals a startling truth: nearly half of all the organizations indexed on the infamous register operate in the educational sector. From small public school systems to the largest, most hallowed universities in the world, it’s clear that IT security teams in the education field have struggled to balance the challenge of supporting open networks with defense of sensitive data. And with data that ranges from student medical records to alumni donors’ financial information resident on their systems, these organizations must now also comply with demanding security regulations including PCI, HIPAA, GLBA and FERPA.
Using our products to carry out comprehensive security testing allows educational institutions to gain extensive visibility into the cause, effect and prevention of sophisticated data breaches, as well to as understand precisely what data they may already have exposed to potential attackers. By illustrating how multiple low-level vulnerabilities can be assailed by hackers to gradually advance their privileges and gain access to protected information, organizations can address their most urgent vulnerabilities and comply with complex industry regulations without being forced to restrict IT systems access.
Insulating Networks from Unmanaged Devices
One of the most significant challenges faced by many educational institutions today – especially colleges, universities and professional training providers – is the requirement to allow network access to large numbers of unmanaged devices while trying to centrally manage IT security and maintain regulatory compliance. While organizations can install stringent internal IT security policies and controls, it’s extremely difficult for them to ensure anything beyond a minimal baseline of security posture among the many mobile devices and laptop computers that they must permit to access and connect to their systems on a daily basis.
Using Core Security products and services, educational institutions can protect themselves against the inevitability of infected and insecure devices coming into their environments by identifying exploitable vulnerabilities that may be open to attack before they can be compromised. Proactive testing of vulnerabilities allows organizations to understand and address root cause issues that could lead to potential malware and botnet infections, preventing sophisticated threats from making the leap from their students’ devices onto their networks without adopting more restrictive access management controls that often create headaches for end users and systems administrators alike.
Limiting Unauthorized Insider Activities
For almost as long as IT systems have been an element of the educational environment, institutions have been forced to deal with the potential for unauthorized or inappropriate use of those resources by individuals seeking to advance their own interests (ex. change their grades or manipulate admissions) or to disrupt operations (take online resources offline). In addition to individuals merely attempting to boost their marks or gain access to testing materials ahead of time, organizations must also worry today about insider data theft, research-thieving espionage and other nefarious activities that could carried out by insiders ranging from students to operational staffers and business partners.
Incorporating more frequent, consistent penetration testing into their IT security programs can allow educational institutions to limit the opportunity for insider attacks by:
- Understanding how multiple vulnerabilities could be used in concert by attackers to find inroads to sensitive resources.
- Ensuring that access management solutions are in place and working correctly to authenticate user-based controls.
- Validating that other defensive IT security mechanisms are functioning properly to prevent malicious behaviors.
- Testing against privilege escalation attacks through which assailants seek to access protected data and assets.
- Conducting internal social engineering assessments to raise awareness of existing security policies.
Driving Down Web-Based Security Risks
Educational institutions are under more pressure than ever to make many of their informational and administrative resources available online to allow maximum flexibility for students and other constituents including teaching staff and alumni donors. And while these online applications offer tremendous value in helping education sector organizations communicate with all of their varied constituents, web applications have emerged as the primary target for advanced hackers and malware programs seeking to infiltrate protected environments to disrupt operations and steal sensitive data.
Using our products to test the security of web applications allows organizations to continue to roll out new systems without simultaneously expanding their risks, as well as meet related regulatory compliance demands by:
- Identifying weaknesses in web applications, web servers and associated databases.
- Dynamically generating exploits that can compromise security weaknesses in custom applications.
- Demonstrating the potential consequences of successful attacks by replicating local attacks against backend resources.
- Generating actionable data necessary for focusing development resources on remediating proven security issues.
- Confirming the efficacy of application code fixes and ensuring that new exposures have not been created.
Maximizing Limited Security Staffing
Like many other types of organizations, educational institutions frequently lack the resources to hire sizable IT security teams, leaving it up to management and staffers to do more with less in meeting all of their various security and compliance responsibilities. Using our products, organizations can carry out comprehensive, in-depth penetration testing without being forced to hire additional staff or invest in pricey consulting engagements that offer limited value once testing has been completed and the pros have gone home.
In addition to maximizing personnel for performing assessments and meeting compliance requirements in security regulations including PCI, HIPAA, GLBA and FERPA, our products also help alleviate fixed IT staffing resources by:
- Helping organizations to translate vulnerability scanning results and security systems information into actionable data.
- Ensuring that remediation efforts including patch management are effective and do not introduce additional vulnerabilities.
- Allowing security staffers to more effectively prepare for and respond to mandated external security audits.
- Illustrating existing security risks to IT administrators and technology developers to increase awareness to related initiatives.
- Providing detailed reports on vulnerability information that can be shared with both technical and non-technical audiences.
Diminishing the Impact of Social Engineering
One of the most significant trends to emerge on the cybercrime scene in recent years has been the increasing use of targeted social engineering attacks carried out against end users in the name of gaining access to their devices to steal data and traverse onto the protected networks that they access. In attacks that have been carried out against everyone from federal government agencies to tech giants such as Google, cybercriminals have shown that by isolating specific individuals or groups of users and targeting them with custom threats that play on their trusted relationships they can gain access to the most closely guarded IT networks in the world.
Recent studies have also highlighted the fact that students, especially people under the age of 21, are particularly vulnerable to social engineering attacks based on their use of social networking applications through which they frequently share volumes of personal information that can be used to create highly detailed custom attacks.
Using our products client-side penetration testing capabilities, institutions can lower their related exposure to social engineering threats by:
- Testing end-user security awareness to reinforce policies and highlight cutting-edge targeted attack methods.
- Crawling the Web to identify what kinds of domain-specific information may be available to attackers.
- Highlighting what level of access attackers may have from compromised devices after they carry out successful attacks.
- Redirecting vulnerable users into additional security training or rewarding diligence to security policies.
Validating Security Investments
Most educational institutions operate on fixed IT security budgets and therefore must ensure that every dollar spent delivers optimal return on investment in providing protection and meeting their organizations’ compliance needs. It’s also vital for educational sector IT security teams to be able to illustrate how their previous investments are still paying off and where additional spending on new projects will produce tangible results.
Using our products to conduct comprehensive security testing enables organizations to proactively assess the efficacy of their network, endpoint, web application and e-mail defenses are working properly by allowing them to:
- Validate that defensive technologies are working properly and preventing attacks.
- Locate potential gaps that exist between disparate security point products.
- Ensure that defensive systems do not themselves harbor exploitable vulnerabilities.
- Tune IDS/IPS and other mechanisms to maximize their performance in the face of cutting-edge threats.
- Illustrate the process of evaluating products to determine ROI and influence future buying decisions.
Meeting Compliance Demands
Educational sector organizations face an ever-widening array of demanding IT security regulations that they must adhere to, specifically around improving and validating protection of sensitive electronic data ranging from students’ medical records to alumni donor information. In addition to any internal security reviews they must prepare for and pass, many of today’s institutions must also address security regulations including PCI, HIPAA, GLBA and FERPA, all of which call for proactive vulnerability assessment, validation and testing.
Enlisting our products allows education sector organizations to meet specific penetration testing requirements such as those laid out in the PCI DSS mandate, and to validate the efficacy of many other security requirements, by:
- Providing deep, cross-asset automated penetration testing capabilities useful to security staffers of all experience levels.
- Generating targeted compliance testing reports that address specific standards including PCI DSS.
- Validating that mandated defensive security controls are in place and functioning properly.
- Helping to translate information provided by vulnerability scanners and defensive controls into actionable data.
- Offering a form of detailed compliance management benchmarking that can be used to track progress over time.