Blog iconFull Speed Ahead: Preparing Higher Ed Networks for a Hybrid Future

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Full Speed Ahead: Preparing Higher Ed Networks for a Hybrid Future

School is out and summer is in – but not for long. With more restrictions lifting across the U.S., higher education institutions will soon switch to a hybrid learning model, offering both in-person and online instruction. While this sounds beneficial to IT departments who have long struggled with security challenges due to the onset of remote learning, higher education institutions will still rely on online instructional design platforms, like Zoom, to support hybrid learning. This model will cause networks to see extreme increases in bandwidth, straining throughput speeds and decreasing network performance. Our question to you: is your network prepared?

Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s take a moment to commend IT departments for everything they’ve had to endure in the past year and a half. From finding secure distance learning solutions (often while lacking an adequate budget and staff, might we add), managing day-to-day operations and defending networks from an influx of phishing and ransomware attacks and data leaks, they’ve been through a lot. Unfortunately, they won’t find solace just yet. With the return of students on campus, they may experience some level of normalcy, but they’ll find unique benefits and security challenges associated with the new hybrid learning environment.

If you’ve been a participant of remote working or learning, like the majority of the world, you’ve likely experienced the good and the bad aspects. The benefits of hybrid learning are tenfold – not only does it allow institutions to bolster educational offerings, but it also enables flexibility and expands the reach of who can access learning.

From a security perspective, however, IT departments are expected to provide users with the tools to safeguard against online attacks and keep their data secure. Naturally, many users feel less confident about using ed-tech and navigating this territory given the past year has been filled with cyber attacks against higher education institutions.  2020 was a record-breaking year for cyber attacks on schools with nearly 40% of incidents including data breaches and leaks, according to a GovTech report

Alongside comfort with technology and training, IT departments are faced with technical challenges when it comes to securing the hybrid learning environment. With an influx of IoT devices, there is a greater chance of exposure to potential vulnerabilities. Flawed by design, these devices serve as an easy vector for attackers who are looking to gain access to a network. This poses extreme challenges to endpoint security as well as identity and access management.

The good news is that many higher education institutions are well on their way to embracing hybrid. It’s time to go all in on digital. Here are a few ways your higher education institution can combat the security challenges associated with remote learning:

  • Start by upgrading to meet network demands. This may include beefing up your university or institution’s wireless network by upgrading switches or adding APs. This maximizes scalability and reduces wiring to optimize your network and create intelligent learning spaces. A properly-designed WiFi infrastructure ensures not only coverage but sufficient RF quality and roaming to support students running latency-sensitive apps such as all those new Zoom-based classes.
  • Alongside content filtering, which can block potential threats coming through over social media and other web apps, bolstered firewalls and smart bandwidth management make successful hybrid learning possible. Integrated security solutions with application-based content filtering can give you control and reporting capabilities to better manage your network and remove bottlenecks.
  • Increase security with device profiling, automated segmentation and security. Colleges and universities can drastically increase security with tools to automate the discovery and classification of devices. Access policies can then be implemented for proper segmentation and rights.

Carolina Advanced Digital has been providing enterprise class network and security infrastructure to higher education clients for more than 30 years. We’ve successfully remediated network and wireless issues related to remote learning and on-campus zoom use across several schools. Contact us today to learn more about our solutions for education.