Exclusive: Getting back to university, securely


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Gordon Swallow and Matt Jones of Gallagher discuss the importance of having the right security solutions in place at universities.

As the UK enters Autumn and universities welcome students back for a new academic year, many COVID restrictions have been lifted. While many universities will offer more face-to-face teaching this year, things won’t be entirely ‘back to normal’.

Gallagher is working with universities across the globe to help them reduce cybersecurity risk and keep their people and assets safe.

Keep personal data secure

A cyber breach of a university’s security system could have far-reaching consequences. With databases full of personal information about staff, students and alumni, universities must implement solutions designed to mitigate the risk of cyber-attack and protect their data.

“Universities simply cannot run the risk of cyber criminals breaching their network. Therefore, protecting data must be a number one priority,” explains Strategic Business Development Manager, Gordon Swallow. “That data includes lots of personal information, such as residential addresses, next of kin information, grades and – in the case of students enrolled in campus health services – medical notes.”

Safeguard facilities and infrastructure

Many universities are integrating their security systems into a much larger ecosystem that supports the delivery of a first-class student environment. Moving toward a fully integrated security solution creates numerous new touchpoints outside of what is traditionally expected from a conventional security system. That’s why it’s now more important than ever to ensure everything is cyber secure.

“An attack on a university’s systems and infrastructure could result in someone gaining control over a facility and has the potential to shut down the site until they are able to operate safely again,” explains Gordon. “A cyber breach of a university’s security system has the potential to unlock doors – giving unauthorised access to highly valuable equipment and intellectual property, compromise building systems and provide a way into other systems, which could have extensive consequences.”

Reduce cybersecurity risks

“Keeping software up to date is the best way to protect against a cyber breach and the only way to keep one step ahead of the cyber criminals. That’s why Gallagher continually evolves its Command Centre software – to ensure it meets emerging cyber threats,” says Gordon.

Gallagher releases two versions of its Command Centre software every year, which are extensively tested prior to release. This includes both internal and external penetration testing during development to identify vulnerabilities along with additional tests from its dedicated cybersecurity research team to ensure essential standards are met.

“Universities can reduce cybersecurity risks through Gallagher’s end-to-end encryption and user authentication,” says Matt. “Additionally, they can use Gallagher’s Security Health Check to identify potential vulnerabilities within their system, allowing proactive management and response to new and evolving security risks.”

“It’s important that universities implement regular software and hardware updates across all devices to stay current with cyber threats,” explains Gordon. “Putting the right product in, is only half of the solution. We also provide configuration advice, in the form of Gallagher’s Hardening Guide, to help universities deploy the system in a secure environment.”

Additionally, universities can simplify data management and protect data integrity by integrating student management and human resource systems with Gallagher’s Command Centre to store data securely.

Understand all risks

When measuring security risks, cyber and security threats are equally important and both need to be considered. 

“While we’ve discussed the importance of robust cybersecurity measures, it goes without saying that robust physical security measures are essential for keeping people safe and protecting assets whilst still maintaining an open campus environment,” says Matt.

As more students return to on-campus learning, universities should utilise security solutions that provide seamless campus control from one integrated security management system (SMS).

“Choosing a security system that helps the security team respond swiftly and accurately during emergency situations with rapid evacuation and lockdown procedures is just one example of how access control can help universities keep people safe on campus,” says Matt. “Integrating your SMS with third-party systems like CCTV is another way.”

Integrate systems

For University College London (UCL), managing the access of more than 42,000 enrolled students, 20,000 staff and a system with over 70,000 cardholders, across their multi-site campus seemed like an immense undertaking. The sheer scale of the University’s operations determined the need for a comprehensive electronic access control solution to manage multiple systems, while providing unobtrusive, yet robust security.

Gallagher’s integrated security solution, Command Centre, connected with the University’s 107 buildings, which controls 1,291 doors, 52 turnstiles and 37 lifts. Gallagher’s system also secures UCL’s top security areas such as high-risk research space and data centres, while helping to divide public and semi-public areas from departmental spaces. The solution was integrated with staff, student and visitor records systems and filters duplications to ensure a single identity for efficient cardholder management.

As a growing organisation, UCL’s security requirements are continually changing, but the scalability of the Gallagher system means their needs can be consistently met.

“Gallagher systems have been introduced as a progressive response to the need for more security control on site,” says Mike Dawe, Security Systems Manager for University College London. “As UCL’s estate grows rapidly, the Gallagher system remains a key component of its security response and in the measures deployed in new buildings.”

Continue to evolve

“Gallagher’s Command Centre, the powerful software at the heart of our integrated security solutions, allows universities to efficiently manage a distributed campus with multiple sites, buildings and requirements, all from one central system,” says Gordon. “The system also integrates with various other systems and hardware. Creating an open yet secure environment that keeps people on campus safe.”

Matt concludes: “In a world where cyber and physical threats continue to evolve, our security must too. Keeping students and staff safe is essential for any learning community. Gallagher’s integrated security solutions provide complete campus control from one central management platform and deliver a seamless experience for your entire learning environment.”

For more information, visit: security.gallagher.com

This article was originally published in the October 2021 edition of International Security Journal. Pick up your FREE digital edition here

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