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Higher education social engineering threats (e.g. phishing, smishing, vishing) continue to pose problems for colleges and universities. These institutions are on fraudsters’ sites, and some have lost millions of dollars to phishing and other social engineering attacks. So, let’s explore what higher education social engineering is, how it happens, and what you can do to protect your college or university against bad actors. 

What is Social Engineering Fraud?

At its core, social engineering fraud is a sophisticated form of manipulation where fraudsters trick individuals into divulging confidential, sensitive information or unknowingly performing actions that compromise security. And unlike brute force cyberattacks that directly breach digital walls, social engineering fraud targets the human element, capitalizing on behavior, trust, and emotion.

In some cases, these fraudsters impersonate vendors. In others, they pose as other reputable organizations. In all cases, they take advantage of human trust. Unfortunately, we have yet to discover a silver bullet security protocol that can guard against this vulnerability. 

Why Universities?

Colleges and universities are unique in their setup and function, presenting appealing challenges and rewards for fraudsters. As a result, they are frequently on the radar due to their:

Diverse Population: Higher education institutions often have a large, diverse population comprising students, faculty, and staff. Accordingly, this translates into a broader attack surface. What’s more, the individuals that make up the university ecosystem have varying levels of cybersecurity awareness.

Access to Sensitive Data: Universities handle a wealth of information, including financial transactions, personal student data, and valuable research information. Since this data offers a financial incentive to fraudsters who can access it, it is often used for larger-scale fraud schemes.  

Complex IT Infrastructure: Colleges and universities vary in size. Subsequently, larger institutions with multiple departments, research wings, and external collaborations face bigger IT hurdles. IT departments at these institutions contend with intricate digital ecosystems, which can lead to additional vulnerabilities.

Protection Against Social Engineering Fraud

The threat landscape is a living, breathing thing that demands proactive security measures. Universities should lean into each of these areas to guard against higher education social engineering attacks: 

Education & Training: Students, faculty, and staff have different degrees of knowledge about social engineering threats. The best bet is to get everyone on the same page with regular training sessions that highlight the most common social engineering tactics. These might include role-playing exercises and mock attack simulations to prepare them for real-world scenarios.

Limited Access: The best practice is to establish tiered access based on roles. Limiting access in this way allows universities to make sure sensitive data is harder to reach. 

Multi-factor Authentication: Passwords are sorely outdated. Adding another layer of security – whether biometric verification or a one-time passcode (OTP) – can keep fraudsters at bay,  even if initial login credentials are compromised.

Regularly Updated & Patched Systems: All systems, software, and applications should be up-to-date. Moreover, periodic security audits can help identify and rectify potential weak points.

Active Reporting: Higher education institutions should foster an environment where individuals can easily report suspicious activities without fear of repercussions. Early detection can often prevent larger breaches.

The steps above set the foundation for protection against higher education social engineering fraudsters and threats. That said, colleges and universities can often benefit from the nuanced approach that higher education payments specialists can provide. If you’d like a free consultation about your current concerns, please reach out. Our team can help ensure that you remain a secure custodian of sensitive data for your faculty, students, and staff. 

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