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One of the biggest challenges colleges and universities face today has nothing to do with education itself — it’s cybersecurity. Hackers now look for vulnerable institutions to tap into a wealth of data and the numbers support this worrying trend. According to Check Point’s 2023 report, education and research continues to be the most targeted sector for cyberattacks, so choosing a secure live chat software is essential.
In this article, we’ll go over the common security threats in higher education and ways live chat security can be improved. But first..
Higher ed has traditionally lagged in implementing the latest and greatest of what cybersecurity has to offer. Part of the problem is digital ignorance, the other part is the very design of these institutions. Live chat and security, in general, are targeted because:
1. PII everywhere
Colleges and universities store a treasure trove of personally identifiable information (PII) of students, staff, and alumni. Young students with a fresh credit history are easy targets for attackers and they exploit loopholes to get access to databases and accounts.
2. Confidential research data
Most higher ed institutions run highly confidential research programs that are often monitored by foreign agencies. Cyber espionage is a growing challenge as the information extracted from these attacks can be used for financial and political leverage.
3. Lack of coherent security strategy
Compared to the high level of risks involved, colleges and universities rarely implement a coherent security strategy across departments. Some departments use specific standards while others push security to the back burner. Since departments are ultimately connected, this creates an inconsistent mess with glaring loopholes.
Performing regular security audits can help identify potential vulnerabilities and improve security practices, which is crucial in protecting sensitive information. By proactively identifying and addressing security risks, higher education institutions can better protect themselves and their students from cyber attacks.
4. Large attack surface
Higher ed campuses are designed to share knowledge and offer flexible access—making them prone to coordinated attacks. Students and teachers are already connected with too many devices, and remote learning has made BYOD a real headache for admin. A large attack surface incentivizes criminals and they’re using chat apps to steal information.
Hackers target the research and education sector because these are the low-hanging fruits that give them huge ROI.
Students and support agents often discuss information that can be devastating in the wrong hands. Live chat apps are vulnerable to numerous attacks. Here are a few of the prominent ones:
1. Social engineering attacks
People are sharing more and more information online and hackers are having a field day piecing them together. Social engineering attacks have risen exponentially because it’s easier than ever to mimic someone or use sensitive information to gain trust. Live chats can aid these types of attacks in two ways:
One, hackers can target a student and collect information about them for months. They can use this information to log into the college’s chat app and convince a support agent to share more sensitive data about them. This can lead to SSN spoofing and credit card fraud without students even knowing about them.
Second, hackers can target support agents that handle several student queries a day. They can use similar techniques to collect sensitive information, hoping that’d lead them to login credentials. Even if they can’t find login information, they can manipulate victims with urgent-sounding messages to coax them into sharing critical information. This brings us to the next point.
Phishing attacks are not new, but they’re not the old spam texts from the early 2000s either. Today’s phishing attacks are often used along with other techniques to exact maximum damage and chat apps need to be protected from these. For social engineering attacks, hackers gather information covertly but with phishing SMS and emails, they hope you make a mistake in the heat of the moment.
Phishing messages pretend to come from authentic sources and use urgency to force an error in judgment. With these, hackers can get login details to chat apps and carry out similar operations discussed in the previous step.
3. Identity theft attacks
Identity theft attacks are often the consequences of social engineering and phishing attacks. Once hackers get access to PII, they can carry out various crimes. For starters, attackers can pretend to be the victim student and convince chat agents to share more personal details about them. But this doesn’t end here. Identity thieves can gain access to bank accounts and credit cards, file false tax returns, apply for unemployment benefits, and even steal medical information.
4. Ransomware attacks
Ransomware attacks are more likely to target higher education because of the sheer amount of sensitive data each institution possesses. From multitudes of student and alumni data to staff information and research papers, stolen data from campuses have incredible value. Hackers might exploit this sentiment by encrypting college and university data and asking for a huge sum of money to supply the decryption key. 74% of ransomware attacks on higher education are successful, which is a worrying trend not just for students and staff, but also for college administrations.
5. Chatbot flaws
In some cases, chatbots lack the necessary security needed to store, share and facilitate highly sensitive interactions. If the chat window code is flawed or the chatbot employs poor security practices, hackers can easily target chatbots to steal the information they process. It’s important to choose a chatbot that not only complies with all the standards but uses strict security measures to shield interactions from threat actors.
6. Data breaches
Data breaches are a constant threat to K-12 and higher ed institutions for all the reasons we’ve discussed above. Massive amounts of important data, weak security protocols and a wide attack surface allow cybercriminals to intercept and steal data, which also often compromises the live chat software as well.
Chat security in higher ed is a continuous process that requires dedication and vigilance. Here are a few ways you can go about it:
1. Address live chat risks
The first step to securing a live chat environment is to look out for potential risks. These include corrupt software patches, flawed chat windows, lack of firewall, and weak access management.
Each software update must go through rigorous testing and risk assessment, along with security compliance to make sure they don’t break a stable chat environment. Next, encourage support agents and students to avoid public WiFi and use VPNs whenever they log into the live chat software. This will protect users from spies.
Apart from that, use a strong firewall and password management tool so that support agents and school employees don’t become a gateway to large-scale cyberattacks.
2. Secure communication channels
Since hybrid learning is a big part of today’s higher education sector, it’s important to secure the digital perimeter of the campus and address all the potential communication channels.
The default security and privacy settings of Zoom and other video conferencing tools have often been exploited by hackers to spy on teachers and students. So it’s important to run due diligence on the software approved for education and make sure the settings are tweaked to achieve maximum security. Another step in the right direction would be extending BYOD features to remote learners and helping them set up a VPN and firewall for secure chatting with the institution.
In addition to securing communication channels for remote learning, hosted phone system security features can also be utilized for higher education institutions. Hosted phone systems can offer advanced security features such as encryption of calls and messages, two-factor authentication, and automatic updates to protect against known vulnerabilities.
3. Improve cybersecurity awareness
A college or university is as secure as its most vulnerable employee. 34% of organizations suffered cyberattacks triggered by insiders, which emphasizes the need to invest in education and awareness. Cybersecurity training should empower college staff to handle student data securely and identify attacks proactively.
Considering the evolving threat landscape, admins should conduct frequent and comprehensive seminars to explain the need to use password management tools to create and store strong passwords, be wary about what they share online, use privacy-focused tools, and identify phishing and identity theft attempts.
4. Pick the right live chat software
Not all live chat software are built equal. When you’re investing in a tool that allows students to stay in touch with the campus, it’s important to pick a tool that’s tried and tested and upholds the highest security measures.
Comm100 uses HTTPS encryptions, credit card masking, IP restrictions, session-only cookies, audit logs, agent access management, server protection, network security, and regular patches to create a safe and convenient chat environment for both parties.
5. Invest in cyber resilience
Despite best efforts, colleges, and universities are more likely to be attacked by criminals. One way to prevent this is by constantly monitoring and improving security infrastructure so that when an attack does occur, the team is prepared to handle it efficiently. By creating an all-around zero-trust security network, higher ed can mitigate the damages.
For live chat apps, comprehensive security also includes compliance with international standards. Make sure your preferred tool has covered these security standards:
GDPR is one of the most thorough and strict user consent and privacy laws that’s effective in the EU. It focuses on how user data is collected, stored, and shared, along with potential use cases that protect the citizens of the EU from data mishandling. Comm100 is fully compliant with GDPR to make sure no sensitive data is shared without user consent.
Live chat apps are often used to share, store, and verify credit card information to establish the authenticity of sessions and serve relevant information. Comm100 is compliant with PCI DSS, which underlines a slew of credit card and other financial information protocols.
Similar to PCI DSS which focuses on financial security, HIPAA emphasizes on medical privacy and security. As a HIPAA-compliant chat service, Comm100 adheres to the protocols and keeps personal health information (PHI) secure.
SOC 2 Type II
SOC 2 Type II requires businesses to operate and interact with customer data in ways that protect their privacy. It’s essentially built on five criteria: security, processing integrity, confidentiality, availability of services, and privacy of data. Comm100 follows all the tenants of SOC 2 Type II.
ISO 270001 is an important security standard for live chat software as it’s focused on information security management system (ISMS). Comm100 complies with ISO 270001 to make sure all the customer data is managed and stored in ways to protect their integrity and authenticity.
Security is a critical part of higher education and live chat apps are part of that conversation. Considering the real-time updates and multitudes of information processed in these apps, you must understand the risks and go with a software that’s built with security at its core.