Cyber security – top table interest

The risk cyber crime presents to the higher education sector was highlighted to Vice-Chancellors at the Universities UK Conference in 2012. Since then, there have been a series of round table discussions which have looked at the ability of the UK higher education sector to respond to cyber crime attacks. I attended the most recent of these which focused on the outcomes of a self-assessment exercise UUK promoted earlier in the year.

Those institutions that had completed the exercise will receive individual reports in the near future and a briefing will be circulated to Vice-Chancellors reflecting on the exercise. The briefing will include an additional report giving details of a number of UCISA resources that support institutions in their cyber security initiatives. The detailed results of the exercise are embargoed until the institutions have received their individual reports but, although it is clear that there is work to be done, there are some encouraging signs that cyber security is being taken seriously at a senior level within many institutions.
There are a number of factors that support this assessment. Firstly over sixty institutions took part in the exercise. In addition to these institutions, I am aware of a number of others that did not take part as they had already carried out similar work either utilising already published controls (such as the CPNI’s twenty controls for cyber defence) or by engaging external consultants.

Secondly there was a good level of interest shown in security and risk related topics by delegates at the Universities UK Conference this year. UCISA exhibits at the Conference to promote our resources and activities. Two publications that drew particular interest were the revised Model Regulations for the use of institutional IT systems and the Information Security Toolkit. Effective information security is underpinned by effective regulations and the Model Regulations give institutions a template to utilise locally. The current version of the Information Security Toolkit provides specimen policies for institutions to revise. The delegates were also interested in the Major Projects Governance Assessment Toolkit – effective governance reduces the risk of projects failing to deliver their anticipated benefits, or having major cost or time overruns.

So there are positive signs that risk and cyber security are being taken seriously. Care is needed though that cyber security is not just seen as an IT problem – people and processes are also important components in implementing effective information security measures. This is something that will be highlighted in the revised Information Security Toolkit – there is a need for senior management ownership and good governance in order for information security to be successfully managed. We also need to guard against IT only featuring at the top table for ‘problem’ issues – we need to work to ensure that the role IT can play in enhancing the student experience, delivering efficiencies is also understood by senior institutional managers.

Postscript – work is currently in progress on a revision of the Information Security Toolkit. It is anticipated that the new version will be launched at the UCISA15 Conference in March 2015.

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