Higher ed IT experts point to security breaches as 'inevitable' — EDUCAUSE report

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Information security tops the list of critical IT issues for the third consecutive year, according to a report from EDUCAUSE, the higher education technology association.

According to IT specialists, the finding points to a major blind spot in higher education.

“While colleges and universities continue to invest in information security, we security practitioners have failed to clearly define a strategy for cybersecurity, and thus our leadership feels unmoored in response to the public drama of large-scale data breaches,” said Michael Corn, chief information security officer at the University of California, San Diego. “Thus, whatever the news of the day happens to be, we hear the constant question: ‘What are we doing in response?’”

Sharon Pitt, vice president of information technologies at the University of Delaware, said in the report that colleges are in constant limbo because of eventual attacks.

“A big worry is the inevitable breach, because it’s an unknown,” she told EDUCAUSE leaders. “Will it be an internal or an external threat? Will our team be capable of handling the technology challenges associated with the breach? The best that we can do is train, put procedures in place and practice for the inevitabilities.”

She added that IT leaders are mostly “in a place of reaction.”

“We need to set aside time to plan and build our security framework,” she continued. “This is incredibly difficult as demands for security compliance increase and as attacks become more sophisticated. We need to be more proactive in the creation of awareness training as well as our prevention, protection and mitigation infrastructure.”

More broadly in the report, EDUCAUSE identified four primary themes for higher ed technology: institutional adaptability, improved student outcomes, improved decision-making and IT adaptability.

EDUCAUSE leaders also took the findings, which were previewed at the association’s annual conference in November, as a signal that “the issues for 2018 point to no less than the remaking of higher education.”

“Last year’s top IT issues concen­trated on IT investments and activities around student success,” said Susan Grajek, vice president of communities and research at EDUCAUSE. “While that’s still a top priority for colleges and universities, this year we’re seeing the convergence of higher education’s biggest concerns with technology’s greatest capabilities.”

Information security was followed by student success, institution-wide IT strategy, data-enabled institutional culture, student-centered institution, higher education affordability and IT staffing and organizational models.

Data management and governance and digital integrations tied next, followed by change in leadership.

“The majority of higher ed’s challenges can be enabled, enhanced or facilitated through the use of information technology,” said Grajek. “The themes we’ve identified suggest that reimagining higher education necessitates collaboration across the entire higher education ecosystem and a closer look at the people, culture and processes leveraging technology.”

John O’Brien, EDUCAUSE’s president and CEO, stressed in a November interview that the association is trying to listen to a more diverse set of voices in order to move forward.

“The two examples for me would be diversity — academia inclusion — and the other one is young professionals,” he told EdScoop. “We have a new young professionals advisory council — because they’re our future. I don’t think we’ve been as intentional as we are now about really listening to them.”

The 2018 list was developed by a cohort of higher education IT and non-IT leaders, chief information officers and faculty members, and voted on by the EDUCAUSE community.

The Strategic Technologies and Trends report, which is meant to complement the IT priorities, is slated for publication later this month.

It will provide a snapshot of new technological investments, as well as trends that influence IT directions in higher education.

Reach the reporter at corinne.lestch@edscoop.com and follow her on Twitter @clestch and @edscoop_news.

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