Universities take action to protect themselves against cyber attacks


From hiding sensitive research data to hiring “ethical hackers”, Flanders’ universities are concentrating on testing and revamping their ICT security

Digital lockers

Ghent University (UGent) has developed a plan to increase its ICT security out of concerns about hackers wanting to obtain unpublished research results. The University of Leuven (KU Leuven) is employing so-called ethical hackers for the same reason.

UGent deals with at least one ICT security incident every week. Amongst these are cyber-attacks, although it is difficult to ascertain which are specifically targeted at the university, as hackers sometimes use automatic attacks aimed at many organisations simultaneously.

Unpublished research results of commercial interest can be the target of hackers, according to UGent ICT security consultant Michel Raes. The university is also concerned that staff and students’ personal data, such as user names and passwords, can easily fall into the wrong hands. “Hackers could then take over their account to send spam e-mails,” Raes said.

According to Raes, no personal data or research results have been hacked up to this point and that everything is being done to protect sensitive information. “We have a security plan in which we also raise awareness among the users of ICT applications,” he said. 

KU Leuven, meanwhile, is also working on ICT security. Over the past few months, the university has employed a team of “ethical hackers”, who try to break into computer systems, thereby revealing any weak points. A report on the outcome is expected at a later date.

“One of the problems at a university is that researchers have a lot of freedom in the way they handle their data,” explained Annemie Depuydt, KU Leuven ICT director. “But we provide options to do that as safely as possible, like a digital locker in which to save sensitive data.”

Photo: Ingimage