Industry Trends

Enabling Secure Remote Learning for College and University Students

By Renee Tarun | September 07, 2020

This is a summary of an article written for Education IT Reporter by Renee Tarun, Deputy CISO at Fortinet. The entire article can be accessed here.

Like many organizations, colleges and universities globally are feeling the impact of the coronavirus pandemic as students, professors, and administrators alike adjust to their new normal: remote learning. As many four-year universities are forced to shift instruction to a mostly—or entirely—digital model, it is estimated that 70% of students are engaging in some form of online education.

With such a significant shift in education systems that have been well-established for many years, these academic institutions are confronted with a steep, unforeseen learning curve. Not only do they have to build a new curriculum that can be supported by this online format, but they’ve also had to rapidly rework their network infrastructure to support a large number of remote faculty and students, all of which require simple, seamless, and secure access to critical resources.

While educational institutions have been a key target for cyber criminals for many years, remote learning only introduces new risks and creates new opportunities for bad actors to enter the network and gain access to sensitive and critical information.

Enabling Secure Remote Learning 

With an influx of remote users connecting to the core network, cyber adversaries are increasingly taking advantage of the vulnerable devices and home networks often associated with remote connectivity. In fact, the recent FortiGuard Labs Threat Landscape Report reveals a significant increase in cyber attacks targeting consumer-grade routers and personal IoT devices, among other components connected to home networks, during the first half of 2020.

To secure remote learning and ensure a safe, effective e-learning environment for staff and students alike, there are some critical steps that colleges and universities alike must take. These include:

  • Network Segmentation: To minimize the impact of potential breaches, internet-facing applications must be segmented away from the rest of the network.
  • Robust Authentication Policies: Strong password policies—including complexity, length, and regular resets—and multi-factor authentication help protect users from the misuse of stolen passwords.
  • Secure Web Apps: As IT departments improve employee and student email defenses to prevent phishing attempts, attacks on web applications become a more prevalent threat vector. Web application firewalls (WAFs) are critical to prevention.
  • Secure Browsers: As individuals work and learn remotely, cyber criminals are able to more effectively target unsuspecting victims. To prevent attacks that leverage web-based malware, organizations should use a cloud-based web security gateway.
  • Be on Alert for Unusual Activity: With more unfamiliar devices and external traffic connecting to the core network, security teams must be on high alert for unusual activity.
  • Be Aware of Third-Party Risk: Third-party technologies present additional risk to your e-learning environments. Perform thorough security assessments before introducing new platforms into your network.

Safe Learning Practices are Key to Secure Remote Education 

Beyond robust security solutions, students, staff, and faculty must be familiar with basic cybersecurity practices to ensure good security posture. Cybersecurity education courses should become a staple in syllabi this year. A few key basics include: 

  • Strong passwords
  • Caution while using public Wi-Fi
  • An ability to spot social engineering attacks
  • Current and functional security software
  • Implementation of patches as they are released

Be Prepared to Go the Distance

As the coronavirus pandemic upends the way students learn and professors teach, cybersecurity must remain top-of-mind. Academic institutions must implement the right security solutions to ensure a secure, high-performing network infrastructure, while also arming students, faculty, and staff with cybersecurity training to fill any security gaps.

With these techniques, universities and colleges worldwide can support secure remote learning long-term.

Learn more about how to maintain education continuity through broad, integrated, and automated Fortinet Security Solutions for Remote Learning.

Discover how Fortinet Teleworker Solutions enable secure remote access at scale to support students with a wide array of access requirements.