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Vendor Risk Assessments Guide for Higher Education Institutions

Posted September 8, 2020

Higher education institutions encounter lots of complex security hurdles. All these results from the need to manage, support, and protect vast volumes of digital assets that are always at risk. IT and security departments in universities and colleges are responsible for safeguarding sensitive student and staff information, intellectual property, and other research and academic pursuits.

Education facilities nowadays work with different types of vendors to counter the higher cost of serving students. For instance, you may collaborate with integrated learning platforms, software, insights, and services from such vendors. This means that you’ll encounter lots of data ranging from student financing to health records to academic progress reports.

To add to the enormous volumes of data, networks, and supported assets, higher education institutions face constant threats from malicious individuals. Most of these threat actors seek to harm the institution through social engineering attacks like phishing.

Fortunately, higher education institutions can avoid potentially harmful threats through regular vendor risk assessments.

Things to consider for Vendor Risk Assessments in Higher Education

Vendors offer value in the experience and expertise they provide to higher education institutions. However, it would be best if you still had active oversight through a detailed risk assessment. Here are the crucial consideration factors for higher education institutions’ vendor risk assessment:

  • Re-assess the risk – If one of your vendors interacts with low-risk information but moves to access personally identifiable information, the larger attack surface may increase the risk. As such, you must continuously assess the chance to manage the higher risk level.
  • Review SLAs (Service Level Agreements) – These serve as the principal contractual agreement with vendors’ organizations. They establish the cybersecurity liability to be retained whenever the higher education institution experiences any third-party cybersecurity incident.
  • Re-evaluate your vendors’ security policies and procedures – Digital information sharing comes with its set of data risks that may face both on-campus and remote workforces. Chat collaboration services and email data presents unique risks; hence you must review each vendor’s security policies, procedures, and processes.
  • Regularly review your risk monitoring approaches – Even with a working vendor risk assessment strategy in place, you must continuously re-evaluate whether the institution’s monitoring approach matches the evolved, expanded threat surface.

Vendor Risk Assessment and Management in Institutions of Higher Learning

Every higher education facility must collaborate with third-party vendors to achieve their objectives efficiently. This makes it necessary for colleges and universities to establish a robust Vendor Risk Management approach. The strategy helps assess the security practices of your vendors.

A few years ago, chief information security officers from different institutions came up with HECVAT (Higher Education Community Vendor Assessment Tool). The solution was created to relieve university and college security teams from the tedious task of assessing their cloud vendors. It was established to combine the right assessment requirements for vendors and security best practices. The result is a seamless strategy that allows higher education institutions to assess vendors efficiently.

IT, risk, security, and procurement teams must evaluate any associated risks before purchasing an additional third-party vendor solution. Before you adopt a solution, the provider must first complete a HECVAT assessment. This is to confirm that the vendor has the right information and security policies for protecting your sensitive data and constituents’ personally identifiable information.

HECVAT is the first step when you want to establish a vendor risk management system for the education facility. The next step involves identifying the right risk assessment platform offering highly customizable assessment frameworks.

Cybersecurity Best Practices in Higher Education Institutions

Most IT and security teams in higher education facilities dedicate only a small part of their time to establish a working cybersecurity strategy. But doing this could leave a significant impact on colleges and universities. Adopting a dynamic approach could help convert a good cybersecurity team into an excellent one.

Here are the critical cybersecurity best practices in institutions of higher learning:

Communication Prioritization

The current higher education facilities are characterized by bustling workspaces and classrooms, limiting the delivery of information to teaching staff. You can avoid cybersecurity risks by coming up with an exclusive communication channel for sending high-priority messages.

Data And Network Monitoring

If well managed, this essential practice helps in the identification of any malicious activity. IT administrators and technology cover this. You can also seek an outsourced cybersecurity service from a reputable agency like GreyCastle Security to protect you from threats like crypto-mining.

Threat Exposure And Response

For rapid threat detection and response, time will always be of the essence. If you wish to minimize any impact arising from an unforeseeable event, you must always be prepared for incident response.

Scanning For Vulnerabilities And Patch Management

You can avoid exploits on documented susceptibilities through regular vulnerability scanning. You can also leverage advanced technology to be able to patch well-known vulnerabilities.

Network Segmentation

The students themselves usually cause most compromises in higher education institutions. But you can beat the threat actors through a proper network segmentation strategy that designates systems for regulated and private data.

Continuous Staff Training And Reinforcement

Unsuspecting higher education personnel could be easy targets for phishing attacks. This would ultimately lead to tax fraud or widespread identity theft. Continuous security awareness training for employees can help them identify cybersecurity threats, avoid them, and report the incident.

Why Choose GreyCastle Security for Your Vendor Risk Assessments?

GreyCastle Security is reputable for offering compliance guidance and cybersecurity risk assessments in both universities and colleges across North America. The agency can help in regulatory compliance with higher education guidelines such as the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Payment Card Industry (PCI) Security Standards.

Today, almost all students use personal devices for learning, which places the institution’s digital assets at risk. We offer network threat detection solutions to reduce the threat surface on the complex network of devices. Working with us also helps you enhance your operational efficiencies, and every user will understand the relevant best practices. Finally, you are assured of lower IT costs.

If you still haven’t adopted vendor risk management in your institution’s cybersecurity program, it is never too late. Now is the right time to begin. Contact GreyCastle Security today to ensure your student and business is safe from cybersecurity threats.


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