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Future of Higher Education

Keeping Your Students and School Secure in Online and Hybrid Classrooms

Colleges and universities have rapidly transitioned to remote-based learning over the past few months, which brings a wealth of security issues into play. We asked Yubico chief marketing officer Ronnie Manning about what teachers, students, and administrators can do to ensure their digital safety in this upcoming semester.

Ronnie Manning

Chief Marketing Officer, Yubico

What do you think the long-term effects of COVID-19 will be on higher ed over the next few years?

COVID-19 has forced higher education institutions to quickly transition to hybrid and remote learning — accelerating consumption of cloud-based services such as collaboration tools and video conferencing, which has resulted in fast-tracked digital transformation. The need to support this new mode of hybrid and remote learning will likely have long-term impacts for the future — necessitating a complete revamp of legacy technology stacks, a reevaluation of security best practices, and the addition of modern authentication to support new modes of learning.

What advice would you give to heads of universities and colleges to ensure security for every party of the higher education community? What steps can higher education take now to improve security?

Security should be at the forefront of every IT modernization and digital transformation initiative from the get-go — it shouldn’t be an afterthought. With an increase in off-campus and hybrid learning due to COVID-19, it’s necessary to protect against new security threats that may be inadvertently introduced by students, faculty and staff — whether they’re on campus or off. They may share devices with others who may fall prey to a phishing attack or accidental download of malware. They may also connect to university networks from unsecured routers and low-security VPN connections. 

It’s necessary to ensure that all devices, communications, and information being accessed remotely or from the campus have the strictest security and access controls in place, while also keeping in mind convenience for the end user. This means deploying strong yet convenient authentication that is phishing-resistant and protects against account takeovers. 

Yubico is a pioneer in strong authentication, and we’ve been working with many colleges and universities to strengthen their authentication security practices. We’ve seen that username and password, and basic mobile device authentication is common in higher education, but these methods aren’t as effective as strong, hardware-based security key authentication, like the YubiKey, in protecting against the latest cyber attacks. 

What core values are needed in institutions’ missions in order to thrive and continue to grow for the better?

In my opinion, there are two key aspects to ensuring successful growth. The first is that it’s important to have a willingness to collaborate, learn from, and share information with security teams and peers at other higher education institutions, as well as the private sector. This will help institutions stay informed on emerging cyber threats and understand modern security best practices that are being implemented at the forefront of industry. 

The second is an ongoing and necessary perseverance in educating students, staff, and faculty on effective protection for their digital identities against phishing attacks, malware, and account takeovers. People make mistakes, and consistent education on how to recognize such attacks will help minimize errors and ensure a more robust security posture. 

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