Recent data breaches at several U.S. universities this year, such as those at Tampa and Nebraska, have signalled IT security as a rising priority for higher education institutions around the globe. Considering that universities must accommodate networks with thousands of computers, and end-users ranging from students, developers, researchers and admin staff, it’s no wonder that universities’ vulnerable IT systems have become recent targets for attack. A major concern is the number of applications that are downloaded onto university computers, many of which become gateways for malware to enter the system.

What complicates this issue in the education sector is the nature of learning itself, as students rely on a free exchange of information to advance their studies. As a result, they are dependent on a large number of software applications to access materials for specific types of coursework. However, many of these applications require a high level of access, which introduces vulnerabilities for malware attack and thus heightens concern for IT administrators.

With current statistics showing that 70% of all IT security breaches originate internally, universities are faced with the challenge of mitigating this risk, while ensuring adequate access to information for its students. England’s University of Derby recently faced this very challenge – with a network of over 4,000 computers and a diverse pool of end-users, the University of Derby sought a productive balance between access to information and security.

Steve Dashfield, the University’s corporate academic systems manager, and his team, chose to leverage their Windows 7 migration project as the perfect opportunity to embed a more ‘flexible’ security solution across the IT network. Implementing Avecto’s technology, the team was able to remove user admin rights, while elevating required applications, ensuring they be accessible, when necessary.

What resulted was the deployment of secure and compliant desktops, without compromising students’ abilities to run the applications needed for their day-to-day studies. In addition to establishing a flexible, secure and compliant implementation of Windows 7, the least privilege solution also substantially reduced downtime in student IT labs, consequently dropping the support costs and IT resources previously needed to combat malware vulnerabilities. Furthermore, proactively scheduled maintenance programs and granular reporting features have secured the University’s network for better risk management down the line.

All in all, the University of Derby’s shift to a more flexible security solution has produced an improved user experience for all stakeholders – more importantly, it has provided a protective barrier to education’s idealization of free thought.