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Cyberattacks On Campus: A New Breed Of Cyber Criminal Targets Higher Education

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Cyber attack, espionage, and ransomware aren’t part of the curriculum; they are the threats that colleges and universities face as more sophisticated cyber criminals target higher education. It was something no one saw coming.

In 2002, Yale University’s computer system was hacked. What the hackers accessed: applicant data and acceptance/rejection status information. The confessed hacker: the director of admissions at Princeton University.

While the hack was not traditional in nature (the director used Social Security numbers and birth dates of Princeton applicants who had also applied to Yale to access the system), it was an embarrassing incident for both colleges. It was also the first reported case of cyber espionage.

In a way, the hack proved to be a useful event that helped Yale’s cyber security team tighten their internet security. Unfortunately, not all colleges and universities are that fortunate.

In 2004, three breaches at California universities accounted for 2,000,000 stolen records. And neither time nor increased IT sophistication have staunched the number of attacks; in 2015, 539 breaches involving almost 13 million records were reported in the higher education sector. In fact, by the first half of 2017, data breaches had risen 103 percent over the previous year, with 77 percent of all US universities being unprepared for cyber risk.

Education is expected to remain on the list of the top 10 industries targeted by cyber attack until at least 2022.

Today’s cyber criminals are not only looking for data; they are looking for ransom. New York City-based Monroe College had its computer systems hacked in July 2019, shutting down the college’s website, the email system, and online course access as well as potentially compromising the records of over 8,000 enrolled students. Hackers demanded $2 million in Bitcoin decryption key from Monroe College. In March 2018, well over 300 universities worldwide were victims of an organized cyber attack that compromised 31 terabytes of data.

By March 2019, things had not improved. That month, Oberlin College (Ohio), Grinnell College (Iowa), and Hamilton College (New York) fell victim to cyber attacks that compromised student application data. However, instead of demanding ransom from the colleges, hackers instead demanded one Bitcoin from each student whose records were stolen. They later reduced the ransom demand to $60 per student.

The changing cyber security landscape for colleges

Higher education is no stranger to hacking and intrusion. In fact, what is believed to be the first cyber attack happened at a university back in the 80s. In 1988, Cornell University graduate student Robert Morris launched a computer worm while at MIT to gauge the size of the internet. That attack, known as the Morris Worm, replicated and spread rapidly, causing an estimated $100,000 to 10,000,000 in damages.

Unfortunately, things have not improved. By all accounts, cyber crime targeting higher education is becoming much more sophisticated. However, colleges and universities are not always prepared for such evolution.

Why are colleges and universities easy targets for cyber attacks?

By their very nature, schools operate under an open-access IT environment. Thus, they are challenged with maintaining that environment for students, faculty and staff, thus making them frequent targets for cyber attack. As higher education changes how it operates, using more technology for education, student services, and administration, the cyber risks multiply.

That leaves plenty of data at risk. And the data hackers can access is myriad: employee personal and financial information, student information, parents’ financial information, research data, grades, application data, medical information, and more.

Cyber criminals are changing how they operate, as well. No longer interested in merely compromising records and going through the motions of selling them on the dark web, hackers are now more direct in their approach. The number of ransom demands on colleges have increased significantly in just the last few years, and cyber criminals are rarely single entities, they are now organized groups of hackers using an orchestrated approach to infiltrate as many systems as possible.

How are colleges and universities staying ahead of cyber thieves?

Fortunately, colleges and universities can improve cyber security. We recommend a multi-layered approach that includes:

  • Risk assessment
  • Prevention and response plans
  • Regular system updates/offline system backups
  • Creating a culture of IT security
  • Cyber insurance

Risk assessment

At the outset, colleges and universities must understand their risks and prioritize them in order of impact. What information is at highest risk? What systems are most critical? Those are risks that should be monitored regularly.

Also, schools should be grading their data sensitivity – from low to severe – and putting protections around each level according to the severity of the risk. For example, publicly available information would not need protection, whereas personally identifiable information would require encryption and managed, secure storage.

Who has access to such data should also be controlled. By limiting the number of people able to access highly sensitive information, colleges and universities can therefore limit breach potential. Likewise, for unsecured devices, limit what users can access and for how long the devices can access those systems and data.

Prevention and response

Once your institution understands what it is protecting, it should then create or revamp its prevention and response plans. Also, schools should work testing into the prevention plans. A recent test by Clemson University involved sending 100 emails to faculty and staff. While one-fourth of the emails were blocked by the school’s system, over a dozen recipients responded to the phishing scam, and six of the school’s computers were then loaded with malware.

Tests like this allow your institution to see where the vulnerabilities lie and help IT professionals establish better protocols to avoid system breach. Some of those protocols should include:

  • Employee/staff education
  • Stronger passwords that are changed regularly
  • Multi-factor authentication

Once a breach occurs, your institution should have a plan in place for what to do first, whom to call, and which regulatory requirements are triggered by the breach. Having a response plan in place allows your school to respond and recover faster, thus limiting the damage.

System updates and offline backups

Many vulnerabilities can be traced to systems that have not had regular updates and patches applied. Update systems at the first opportunity and stay on top of all subsequent patches and updates.
Backup data is also vulnerable. Today’s hacker compromises not only the systems, but the backups, as well. You can limit the financial impact of a breach by storing all backups offline.

The IT security culture

Probably the largest threat to a college or university’s cyber security is human error. Students click on links. Staff give out passwords. A strong prevention plan needs to include ongoing education about hacking methods and what students and staff should do with potential phishing attempts. Work with your IT department to develop a phishing response policy and an easy way for students, faculty, and staff to report any questionable emails or phone calls.

Cyber insurance

For any organization that handles sensitive data, cyber insurance is a must. Not only will insurance cover the costs of recovery, but the right insurance policy gives institutions access to computer forensics experts, data breach notification/call center services, expert legal counsel, public relations specialist, and credit and ID monitoring services.

Also, cyber insurance should include the following coverage:

  • Privacy & Security Liability
  • Data Breach Response and Crisis Management
  • Privacy Regulatory Defense Costs and coverage for any fines and penalties assessed. Business Interruption and Extra Expense
  • Data Recovery
  • Cyber Extortion and Ransomware

An insurance carrier that specializes in cyber liability can help you put together an insurance policy that addresses your school’s most critical vulnerabilities. A specialty carrier can also help your institution uncover potential areas of risk and put protections in place that can reduce your exposures.

As cyber criminals target colleges and universities, organizations should be addressing the gaps in security as well as educating students, faculty, and staff in how to identify and handle breach attempts.

Schools are far too easy marks for cyber criminals, but they don’t have to be. Putting the effort into education, security strategies, and prevention and response planning can help your institution reduce a number of cyber risks it faces. Working with an insurance carrier that specializes in cyber security is a cost-effective way to improve security and keep information safe.

Rajeev has witnessed the growth of technology across all verticals since he started his career in journalism. With a vast experience of almost 11 years in the technology market in India, he has worked closely with the industry leaders and has been part of this revolution in IT & communication market in India. He started his career as an entrepreneur in 2009 in the technology world. Currently, he is Director of News Dot Media Pvt. Ltd., Chief Editor for Digital Terminal (Magazine & Online) & Telecomtoday.in  

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Opinion

Dynamic Caching- Emerging Trend, Need of Tomorrow

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Authored by Amit Singh, Managing Director, Zenlayer India

Dynamic content caching is a term that’s synonymously trending with discussions around Content Delivery Network (CDN) industry. In fact, with the growing popularity around CDN Dynamic Content Caching is often the claim you will hear from most CDN players. Let me simplify for you how the modern technology makes caching of dynamic content possible.

Most content on the website is collection of both static and dynamic content pages. The word ‘static’ we know is something that remains constant. In computing, static content is any file that is stored in a server and is the same every time it is delivered to users like in the case of eBook, whitepaper, homepage of a website. On the other hand, dynamic content refers to any digital content that keeps changing based on factors specific to the user such as time of visit, location, and device. Text, audio and video formats are examples of dynamic content. This type of web content adjusts dynamically or in real-time allowing websites to individually adapt to different site visitors. Customised newsletters, emails are the most basic forms of dynamic content. Other examples include landing pages on website, forms and purchases, product pages with bounce offers like sales and coupons, targeted website advertisements, voice assistants, etc. 

Dynamic content furnishes different information based on who the viewer is. Online store experience is a lot different for a frequent shopper than a first-time user. Online news website that displays latest news and articles on its web pages, also has dynamic content that keeps getting updated. Your blog feed, social media feed, personalized emails, are other examples of dynamic content that look entirely different for every user. Even interactive content that engages the users allowing them to interact with the content in order to change it are mostly dynamic in nature, like the comment area of your blog, social media sharing buttons, call-to-action buttons on a website and the popular ‘facetime’ or video chat via smart devices. But how is this constantly changing dynamic content being displayed on webpages, tv or smart devices in real-time? This is where CDN industry services and dynamic caching jointly play their roles.

CDNs and Dynamic Caching

‘Caching’ in computing, refers to the process of storing data or copies of files in a temporary storage area called cache. A cache’s primary purpose is to increase data retrieval performance by reducing the need to access the underlying slower storage layer. Caching enables quick access to the stored or cached content. Dynamic content is mostly event-driven for each user implying that the same cannot be served to multiple users and hence is difficult to cache. However, caching dynamic content is now viable with advanced CDNs the right technology mechanisms in place.

A Content Delivery Network (CDN) which today is a vital component of almost any modern web application, is a network of powerful computers located in geographically distinct places. It is designed to serve web content to visitors with great performance and efficiency. Ecommerce or media sites utilize the power of CDNs to frequently update content such as latest prices, news, weather forecasts, articles, featured products, breaking news, video etc on their web pages. Majority of content delivery networks frequently manage caching for sites through a global server network. CDNs can be configured to retrieve data from the origin servers and deliver dynamic content that is unique to the requestor. Intelligent caches and CDNs are able to quickly inspect requests and modify the behaviour of the caching logic as per requirements.

How dynamic caching works?

The HTML document is the backbone of the any webpage and is the first connection point between website origin server and the browser. With a large number of visitors, there is stress on the origin servers. But when the HTML document is cached, the caching server is the only one making a request to the origin server irrespective of the number of visitors. Thus, the website servers are freed up for critical transactions. 

When a user visits a website using a CDN, and web traffic is geo-dispersed, it’s not always feasible and certainly not cost effective to replicate entire infrastructure across the globe.  The traffic routes through the server that is closest to the user and serves up cached or stored versions of the site resources. This allows the site to load faster and eliminate requests back to the origin server. For caching, CDN reduces load on application origin and delivers a local copy of the content from a nearby cache server. 

Role of cache servers

Proxy cache servers are the basic elements of a CDN’s network data centres, which are strategically situated around the world. Based on traffic patterns of individual regions, these points of presence (PoP) are chosen. Active locations with many users may have several data centres and remote locations with few users may have only one PoP to cover large geographic region. Cache servers act as a repository for website content, providing local users with quicker access to stored files. The cache server closest to the end user is chosen to reduce the connection time needed for transmission of website data.

Dynamic content is generated by running scripts in a CDN cache instead of a distant server thus reducing the response time to client requests and speeding up loading of dynamic web pages. It is served to client devices based on parameters like device type, time of day, user location, or data from third party APIs. Often, most content on a dynamic webpage is same for all users, and only few elements are dynamic. The dynamic content acceleration service leverages the high-quality connectivity between the network PoPs to improve response time. This service mainly takes advantage of the private back bone Software Defined Network (SDN) and achieves better ‘back-to-parent/origin’ network connectivity. 

Advantages of Dynamic Caching 

  • Improved data retrieval and application performance 
  • Reduced hosting and server costs
  • Reduced latency and improved IOPS for Q&A portals, gaming, media sharing, and social networking
  • Dedicated caching layer enables systems and applications to run independently 
  • Data can span multiple cache servers and can be stored in a central location 
  • Controls like TTLs (Time to live) for successful cache and cache miss
  • Decreased load on origin server
  • Faster loading of sites
  • Reduced bandwidth costs 
  • Improved access speed and user experience
  • Reliable content delivery
  • Highly resilient, secure and stable CDN cache servers 

Uses of Dynamic Caching

  • Website owners can gather visitor data like frequency of visits, pages visited etc and deliver personalized, dynamic web content at no additional cost 
  • Better interactive and personalised user experience
  • Reduced load on the backend database and reduced time to load site
  • Increased visitor time on site due to browser history insights and display of relevant content 
  • Increased conversion rates, bounce rates, and return visits
  • High performance and no page layout break on multiple devices
  • Easy maintenance
  • Predictable Performance during peak traffic events like IPL or festivals
  • Eliminate Database Hotspots
  • Increase Read Throughput (IOPS)- In addition to lower latency, in-memory systems also offer much higher request rates (IOPS)

With 5G reaching India soon, and some parts of the world heading towards 7G, we can soon expect video replacing voice, text, and everything in between. Dynamic Caching could become the panacea to avoid overloading of data.

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Opinion

Voice Messaging – A Mastered Path to Rural India

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Authored by Mr. Rajdipkumar Gupta, MD & Group CEO, Route Mobile Limited

Out of a population of 133.2 crores in India, a total of 101 crores of people are estimated to own active mobile connections as per TRAI in April 2018. With an exponential rise in the number of mobile phone users across the globe, the world is gradually progressing towards a technologically smarter era. Having said that, an estimated figure of over 74 crores is still using a basic feature phone. Considering India which majorly is segmented into two categories:

• Urban population and • Rural population

As per the report of census 2017, India constitutes a total of 66% of the population to rural area. While the smartphone penetration in these areas is just about 20.26%, there still is a deficit in reach of over 61.5 crores mobile phone users which are not smartphones out of 74 crores basic feature phone users. Taking under consideration that most of these people use basic phones which would not allow them to use the latest high-end features, reaching out to the mass population located in rural areas using a technology that requires minimum technology intervention becomes paramount.

While people even in the remotest locations are carving their path to synchronize well with digitization, it would be fair to join the hands of these technological advancements with our traditional systems in order to enhance the effectiveness of all the activities undertaken. More so, people are getting engaged and connected with a palm-sized technology which enables them to reach out to the world with nothing more than just a simple touch on their screens. Although 36% of the Indian population has been using smartphones, a huge chunk of 64% living in urban as well as rural India is still distant from getting a cutting edge technology mobile phones.

What if we bring together the power of voice broadcast with brand campaigns?

With an active base of 1.012 billion mobile phone users, employing voice campaigns will help reach the message of the brands across the country. Versatile by nature, voice broadcasting can be used to promote events, deliver poll surveys, deliver general announcements, and many such activities.

A panoramic view on traditional means of brand campaigns:

A typical campaign carried by a brand involves people, resources, and predominantly a need for people to be physically present. Along with that, some of the most commonly encountered obstacles are as follows:

  • Need of human intervention
  • Uncertainty in reachability
  • High budget requirement
  • Language Barrier
  • Dependency on external factors

As various brands majorly look out for expansion and recognition, a physical campaign requires physical presence of people. Adding on to that, the success of these events is considerably dependent on the availability of space, equipment, and favourable climatic conditions. The entire event might go for a toss in case of unfavourable climatic conditions, or other factors.

Conducting campaigns with voice broadcasting will not just allow one to increase the reach but at the same time will proffer with a range of other features.

Personalization

Adding a tinge of personal touch has always been beneficial. With Voice Broadcasting, one can customize their campaigns based on their needs, and the demand of their target audience. You can also alter the campaign to a degree that suits the expectation of your upcoming campaigns. Additionally, brands will have the freedom to speak in a dialect that works for the masses. Also, these speeches can be then translated in the choice of the language required in the future in order to make it understandable yet effective.

High-level of Flexibility

It lets you take charge of your own campaigns. Developed to be able to use with a high level of ease, you can modify the campaigns without affecting the other attributes of your campaign. A simple and easy to use format lets you decide the nature of your voice messages.

Elimination of one way communication

Moving a level further, with an Interactive Voice Response, you can also gather, and collate the responses from your audience. This sort of interactivity brings depth to your campaigns, making it way more effective.

Amplified Reachability

In an era of mobile phones, there might be less than a handful of people who don’t own a mobile phone. Using voice broadcasting completely eliminates the need for a person to be physically present for that particular event. A simple, traditional call allows you to reach and address the mob with greater efficiency.

Elimination of hefty budget

Replacing a physical event into voice broadcasting cuts down on the cost exponentially. Rather than investing a lot of money on different factors that involves uncertainty in the performance of the event, investing in Voice Broadcasting proves to be favourable in terms of the cost incurred and also in terms of the productivity of an event.

Cut down on the time involved

While a conventional event demands a lot of time and human involvement which thereby calls for much more investment of time. Voice Broadcasting can be considered as a simple one-click process.

The Process

Voice Broadcasting, when it comes to its mechanism, is one of the simplest techniques to reach out to a large number of people. Owing to its simplicity, security, flexibility, and scalability, it has by far been a vital asset to many political campaigns. Suitable for an array of events ranging from promotional events, polling surveys, personalised messages to general announcements, and many more.

A simple six-step process is what it takes to incorporate Voice Broadcasting into your existing system.

Step 1: Record a voice message.
Step 2: Upload a file of mobile numbers that you wish should receive a call.
Step 3: Add the details of your campaign.
Step 4: Schedule your campaign.
Step 5: Make your campaign live.
Step 6: Access reports at the click of a button to understand the effectiveness of the campaign that can be sorted circle-wise or state-wise.

With a literacy rate of 71% in rural India, one of the most challenging problems is to be able to deliver messages that are understandable. As the major issue faced by the people living in remote/rural areas is the language barrier, implementing voice messaging will eliminate most of the shortcomings of the illiterates. Keeping this as a line of reference, creating a campaign that would keep the majority of the crowd to understand the message becomes crucial.

Voice broadcasting is extremely flexible that lets us run campaigns that would cater to the needs of the mob. Reaching out to a huge mob using a simple, lucid, and a dependable technology would bring success to most of the campaigns. Also, integrating a voice broadcast is as easy as any other physical campaigns.

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Health & Fitness

Smartlink Offered Its Goa Manufacturing Facility for COVID-19 CARE CENTRE

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In a bid to control the rapid increase in the number of cases of the Coronavirus in Goa, Mr. K. R. Naik, Executive chairman, Smartlink Holdings Ltd & Founder of Digisol Systems offered his newly purchased factory free of cost to the Verna Industries Association for turning it into a COVID CARE CENTRE for Asymptomatic COVID patients.

Inaugurated on 13th August, this COVID CARE CENTRE is solely managed by Verna Industries Association. The care center is equipped with 140+ Bed Hospice to house only Asymptomatic Positive Patients from Verna Industrial Estate.

This newly converted facility will provide the physical infrastructure, medical furniture, equipment along with Doctors and paramedical staff that will be stationed at the facility round-the-clock.

Mr. Pradip Da’Costa, President, Verna Industries Association and Mr. Damodar Kochkar, President, Goa State Industries Association thanked Mr. K. R. Naik for his exceptional support for this social cause during the pandemic time.

Commenting on this, Mr. K.R. Naik, Executive Chairman, Smartlink Holdings said, “The Coronavirus Cases are rising every day all around us, and it has become important to use every bit of resources we have to fight against it. We at Smartlink are committed to work together and support our country’s efforts to deal with this pandemic. We will continue to utilize our resources to address the urgent needs of those working to combat the threat and impact of COVID-19.”

Smartlink has been always believed in working together and empower every Indian with its offerings. It is one of the few IT networking companies that has been supporting Vocal for Local since its inception. Even during this time of unprecedented uncertainty, the company has taken on the responsibility to help ease the COVID-19 related stress through this initiative and hopes this will help to overcome crisis.

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