Apr 06 2023

4 Benefits of Outsourcing Cybersecurity in Higher Education

Third-party providers can offer everything from endpoint detection to virtual CISOs and access to a team of experts.

Higher education remains a prime target for cybercriminals, and attacks are on the rise.

One report by Checkpoint Research found that cyberattacks against the education and research sectors jumped by 44 percent in the first half of 2022 compared with all of 2021. Verizon also noted in its most recent Data Breach Investigation Report that educational institutions experienced a dramatic increase in ransomware attacks in recent years.

To combat the risks and improve their security posture, many higher education institutions are turning to outsourcing, according to Joe Redwine, president of OculusIT.

“Many schools don’t have the resources or staff to effectively manage their security around the clock,” he says. “Smaller schools may benefit from outsourcing the most because they often don't have anyone dedicated to security.”

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Benefits of Outsourcing Cybersecurity in Higher Education

Universities and colleges can turn to third parties for cybersecurity, including:

  • Managed security service providers (MSSPs)
  • Managed detection and response (MDR) providers
  • Security Operations Center as a Service (SOCaaS)

While there are several outsourcing models, they all typically help university IT teams with things like firewall management, intrusion detection and vulnerability scanning.

1. Better Security

Redwine says that schools can now outsource anything in cybersecurity, ranging from 24/7 monitoring solutions to virtual CISOs who can manage a university’s IT and security operations on a fractional basis. The growth of outsourcing in the sector now enables universities of all sizes to build their security infrastructure with lower costs and fewer full-time staff, and to obtain better protection than they might otherwise.

“Many schools simply don’t have the security analysts or the staff to run things as needed,” says Redwine. “Outsourcing enables them to partly address the talent and staffing issue, especially with monitoring and threat detection.”

2. Around-the-Clock Security Monitoring

Outsourcing enables schools to more easily set up 24/7 security monitoring, says Redwine. A SOC is simply a team of security experts that works around the clock to monitor, prevent, detect and respond to cyberthreats.

Through its OculusIT EYE, a 24/7 SOCaaS, Oculus runs security operations for many universities and colleges, including Seton Hill University and Columbia International University. It offers threat detection and response, multifaceted analytics, incident management and flexible deployment solutions, enabling higher education institutions to provide around-the-clock security.

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3. Greater Access to Talent and Expertise

Outsourcing also enables institutions to access otherwise unavailable cybersecurity talent and expertise.

“Many higher education institutions that turn to outsourcing do so because of a lack of talent or funds to set up a security infrastructure themselves,” says Joel Snyder, senior partner at OpusOne IT consultancy.

Universities can free up staff time, energy and resources by having a third party vet the security environment, identify gaps, proactively manage risks and respond to incidents.

“You outsource so you can free up people on your team to do the high-value work that no one else can do,” says Kip Boyle, founder and CISO of Cyber Risk Opportunities.

The cybersecurity talent shortage forecast may increase the need for outsourced talent in the coming years. Gartner found that by 2025, nearly half of cybersecurity leaders will change jobs, with a quarter opting for different roles due to work-related stressors. By then, a lack of talent or human failure will also be responsible for half of all cyber incidents.

4. Lower Costs

While outsourcing isn't guaranteed to lower costs, smaller schools that lack the funds to hire staff and create the cybersecurity infrastructure may find it more cost-effective than building their own SOC from scratch.

According to Malwarebytes Labs, an organization that wants to build its own SOC team needs at least five full-time employees, along with management, training, consultation and equipment costs for hardware and software.

Identifying Vulnerabilities Leads to Managed Cybersecurity Success

Although outsourcing cybersecurity can present its own challenges, these benefits are not guaranteed. Handing off cybersecurity tasks to an outside party can put private personal information at risk, lead to a loss of control and lull universities into a false sense of security. Higher education institutions that jump into cybersecurity outsourcing without a plan and a basic understanding of their needs may be disappointed, says Boyle.

“There can be benefits, but you must work hard,” he says. “A lot of people get into outsourcing without really understanding what they are getting into.”

Boyle, who teaches a course on cybersecurity outsourcing, notes one key to success is to first hire a CISO or experienced person to manage the contracts. Schools should also ensure third parties understand the vulnerabilities and needs of higher education institutions.

Another key to improving success in outsourcing is for the school to run its own risk management exercises to identify critical assets and risks, says Snyder.

“You have to identify your problems and risks. You have to be able to explain the risks for them to help,” he says. “Outsourcing cybersecurity can offer benefits, but it can be difficult to get it right.”

MORE ON EDTECH: Why it takes more than technology to secure your institution.

Illustration by Janne Iivonen

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