Higher education security teams are under immense pressure to keep pace with the steep rise in risks that threaten today’s colleges and universities, from cyber attacks to crumbling infrastructure. In fact, both are deemed two of the top 10 risks (No. 2 and 8 respectively) for higher-ed institutions according to a survey conducted by United Educators.
As these and other risks, including extreme weather and geopolitical events, continue to increase in frequency and severity, college and university security teams must find ways to strengthen their resilience against them. It’s an imperative that they are able to effectively safeguard students, staff, campuses, and their institutions’ digital and physical assets.
Here, we explore some of their biggest challenges and how real-time information can make a difference.
It’s not uncommon for a college or university to have one or more campuses abroad. For example, New York University has degree-granting campuses in Abu Dhabi and Shanghai and operates 12 global academic centers and research programs in over 25 countries. The National University of Singapore has 12 overseas colleges around the world including Beijing, Israel and the U.S.
This increased globalization of higher learning comes with its own set of security challenges. Schools must safeguard overseas students who are far from home—many of whom have no family ties in the visiting country—as well as traveling faculty and staff. Some risks are easier to respond to than others. For example, there are typically protocols in place for managing illnesses. But unforeseen and high-stakes threats, such as the rise in virtual kidnappings of Chinese students studying in Australia, require more foresight and planning.
This increased risk exposure means security teams’ areas of responsibility are growing, but current approaches don’t provide the global visibility and insight needed. For instance, campus security teams often partner with local police forces, but those local resources rarely have access to real-time information on emerging risks and events.
During this year’s Association of University Chief Security Officers (AUCSO) conference, held in Edinburgh, attendees discussed the many ways in which the world of security is changing. Topics of conversation revolved around the aforementioned globalization of higher-ed as well as the challenges that come with:
Regulatory and legal compliance ranked No. 7 on the United Educator’s most recent Top Risks Report. AUCSO conference participants pointed to the U.K.’s proposed Protect Duty law—also known as Martyn’s Law—as a particular area of concern. The legislation would apply to colleges and universities and require them to strengthen security measures used to protect people in public spaces or venues that contain more than 100 people. If passed, Protect Duty will have a significant effect on institutions’ safety policies, event planning and security operations.
Universities and colleges around the world host a multitude of events, including those that are commercial in nature such as international sports competitions, conferences and concerts. Many of these events require partnering with public and private partners and attract or feature well-known guests and attendees, adding layers of complexity to the planning required for securing large-scale events.
Cyber-physical risks—those that originate in one domain (digital or physical) and then become threats in the other—are becoming more prevalent. For example, a ransomware attack on one of Germany’s largest universities pushed back assignment deadlines and temporarily halted the school’s ability to issue transcripts and certificates.
In that instance, the impact the cyber attack had on the university's physical world was a minor disruption. However, as cyber-physical risks can pose more serious threats and disruptions, security teams must ensure they have a full view of such risks and are prepared to respond to and mitigate them.
Yet a large number of university and college security teams are not equipped to adapt quickly to today’s constantly changing security and risk landscape.
Security teams responsible for safeguarding colleges and universities need access to tools and technology that help them stay ahead of threats and disruptions and provide rapid, actionable insights so they can:
Here’s where real-time information comes in. With it, higher-ed security teams can ensure they know about potential threats and critical events as soon as they arise—giving teams the lead time needed to take immediate action and quickly mitigate risks. This gives security teams a huge advantage over traditional detection methods.
Take for example Dataminr’s First Alert product for the public sector. It provides real-time breaking news alerts via a powerful AI platform that surfaces the earliest indications of threats, critical events and crises. When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit in 2020, Baylor University relied on Dataminr to bring traveling students and staff home safely—before the pandemic became widespread.
“I can use [Dataminr] to quickly capture what’s happening... and can tell if any of those areas where we have students has been impacted,” said Baylor’s Global Director of Safety & Security. “The number one benefit for us is quality of information.”
To learn more about the power of real-time information, see how First Alert helps security teams respond to critical events as they occur and unfold over seconds, minutes and hours—allowing you to immediately respond and better protect students, staff, visitors and assets.
Janie Gotherman is Senior Director, Public Sector Growth Marketing at Dataminr. Prior to joining Dataminr, she was Director of Government Marketing for LexisNexis.