Canadian postsecondary institutions are now finding strength in numbers when combating cyberattacks.
Western has joined forces with 27 other colleges and universities across the country to combat cyberattacks as part of the CANARIE Network Joint Security Project, Western Information Technology Services officials recently announced. Funded by the federal government, the information-sharing project pools collective IT expertise against millions of attacks on higher-learning institutions annually.
“We are a data-rich environment connected to the world by way of our networks,” explained Jeffrey Gardiner, Western Information Security Campus Officer. “Information is the capital of the Information Age. Consequently, Western’s information infrastructure is under constant attack by advanced threats covering everything from curious students and hackers, to sophisticated organized criminal elements and foreign governments.”
Seemingly every day, there is a reminder in the headlines of why this is important. Late last month, MacEwan University in Edmonton was defrauded of $11.8 million, after staff failed to verify whether emails requesting a change in banking information from a vendor were legitimate.
Offered in collaboration with Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, CANARIE – short for Canadian Network for the Advancement of Research, Industry and Education – is building a community of security specialists to provide a national view of network security activity on postsecondary networks. By discovering similarities in attacks, and utilizing a more unified approach in combating these external threats, institutions will not have to start from scratch every time an attack happens.
“Everybody online is trying to protect themselves; the question is, are they doing enough?” said Gardiner, who contends universities have yet to adapt to the Digital Age in terms of processes. He cited last year when the University of Calgary paid a demanded $20,000 after a ransomware cyberattack on its systems.
“Our community has a stake in intellectual property. If it’s worth owning, it’s worth protecting,” he said.
With this latest collaboration, universities now realize they are not alone. The project provides Western with significant hardware to analyze network threats. Gardiner expects to begin gathering and sharing data this fall.
“Universities will develop common cybersecurity protocols for dealing with the threats and contribute to a data aggregation point. In other words, we’ll share threat information,” he said. “Our threat information will be informed by data from 27 other universities and, in return, contribute back the community effort.”
Universities are normally in the business of competing against each other for students, staff and faculty. But Gardiner expressed excitement at working as a team. “We’re no longer a single institution attempting to stand against a malefactor that threatens us,” he said. “Now, we’re a community.”