Protecting student data: A cybersecurity challenge

Institutions of higher education are faced with a troubling paradox. One the one hand their digital systems need to be open and easily accessible to countless users around the globe, and conversely, they need to carefully guard the sensitive information that is held within their servers. This troubling situation has been exacerbated by the rapid movement to online education across the educational spectrum and the growing trend for those with malicious intent to breach the digital systems of learning institutions and steal the wealth of personal identifiable information (PII) that is stored there.

Once upon a time student records and other PII were stored in paper format and judiciously guarded by staff members who rigidly enforced rules of privacy and access. Today that same information, and much more, is stored on electronic servers scattered around college campuses and protected, in many cases, with an ad hoc system of firewalls and anti-intrusion software. The track record of that security has been called into question with the alarming number of recent breaches of learning institutions. McCarthy writes that, “According to information from the massive database maintained by Privacy Rights Clearinghouse on data breaches, 30 educational institutions experienced data breaches in 2014.”

In fact, cyberattacks comprised more than 300,000 records at the University of Maryland and nearly 200,000 records at North Dakota University, Butler University and Indiana University, respectively. At Arkansas University, nearly 150,000 records found their way into the hands of hackers.

To read Dr. Jane LeClair’s full article, please visit

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