Security Fears

Survey of higher ed technology leaders finds that protecting networks is their top issue -- and that lapses have been widespread.
October 19, 2005

Concerns about network and data security have displaced academic issues as the top priority of campus technology leaders, according to a survey by the Campus Computing Project.

The survey -- answered by hundreds of chief information and technology officers -- is conducted annually, providing a good snapshot of priorities and trends. On the question of top IT issue, 30.4 percent of respondents cited network and data security, far ahead of the runner-up, instructional integration, at 18.1 percent. Last year, network and data security narrowly beat out instructional integration, 21.1 percent to 18.5 percent. But instructional integration had been the top issue every year from 2000 through 2003.

Other questions in the survey suggest that there is good reason for colleges to be worried about security issues.

A series of new questions asked if colleges had experienced various kinds of security problems in the last academic year. The results:

  • 50.7 percent experienced hacks or attacks on their networks.
  • 41.2 percent reported major spyware infestations.
  • 35.2 percent reported major virus infestations.
  • 19.6 percent reported major security incidents involving the management of identity records.

A number of colleges have gone public with such incidents in recent months. But the data suggest that people may know about only a fraction of such problems. "The survey data go beyond the sporadic news articles about IT security incidents at individual colleges and universities," said Kenneth C. Green, director of the project and a visiting scholar at the Claremont Graduate University. "The data confirm that network and data security are major concerns for campus IT officials across all sectors of American higher education."

Many of the questions in the survey are broken down by sector, and while security issues are clearly important across the board, they are not equally important by sector. Among two groups of colleges -- private four-year colleges and community colleges -- instructional integration is the top concern and security is second. Among the other sectors, the one where security ranks as the most dominant issue is public four-year colleges, where 44.1 percent of respondents declare that to be the top issue.

The financial picture for campus computing is improving, the survey found, with 44.3 percent of colleges reporting increased financial support for academic computing this year, up from 37.9 percent in 2004 and 26.9 percent in 2003. Only 15.5 percent of colleges reported budget cuts in academic computing, compared to 24.3 percent in 2004 and 41.3 percent in 2003. While the improvements for financial support for computing crossed sector lines, private colleges generally reported healthier budgets for technology.

Here are some highlights of other items in the survey:

  • File-sharing. More colleges are adopting "appropriate use" policies to deal with concerns about copyright violations and lawsuits. Of survey respondents, 81 percent report having such policies, up from 76.3 percent in 2004 and 66.2 percent in 2003.
  • Open source. Increasing percentages of colleges see open source as a solution to some of their IT needs, but interest decreased slightly at public universities in the last year.
  • Wireless campuses. Of colleges in the survey, 64 percent have strategic plans for wireless networks, up from 55.5 percent a year ago and 24.3 percent in 2001.

Full copies of a report on the survey may be ordered online or by sending $37 (plus $2 for shipping in the U.S.) to Campus Computing, PO Box 261242, Encino, Calif. 91426-1242.



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