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Higher education vendor security risks must take center stage for colleges and universities. Schools work with dozens of third-party vendors that pose serious security vulnerabilities. When it comes to payments vendors, the stakes are higher. 

Without a solid vendor risk management (VRM) program, these partnerships can become doorways for hackers, resulting in operational disruptions, data exposure, and significant financial and reputational losses for the institution. 

Evaluating these challenges should be a top priority for higher education institutions. We’ll look at some strategies that colleges and universities can employ to mitigate vendor-associated security threats and enhance their third-party risk management procedures.

The Challenge: A Tangled Web of Vendors

Higher education institutions do not exist on an island. They are often sprawling and distributed entities, with multiple campuses and departments, each working with its own set of vendors. From billing solutions to payment gateways and more, vendors weave a tangled web of multiple access points. And each of those access points is a potential gateway for threats. 

Navigating this web of payments vendors renders a variety of security challenges: 

Shared Data Risks: Payments vendors have access to sensitive institutional data. This means the security of this data is only as strong as its vendor’s security.  

Inconsistent Security Measures: Not all vendors maintain the same security protocols or standards. Some may be robust, while others might be lacking, creating weak links in the security chain.

Limited Oversight: Keeping tabs on an extensive roster of vendors is often like herding cats. Maintaining oversight of all third-party operations requires significant resources. Without the right systems and oversight in place, blind spots in security frameworks can occur. 

Reducing Higher Education Vendor Security Risks

The digital world we live in means risks are omnipresent, but they’re not insurmountable. Institutions can adopt several strategies to safeguard their digital realms.

Vendor Risk Assessments

Before entering into or renewing contracts, universities should conduct comprehensive security audits of potential vendors. These assessments help institutions determine whether or not vendors have the proper data protection and security processes in place. Tools like the Higher Education Community Vendor Assessment Tool (HECVAT) can help universities understand the cybersecurity risk of vendors and assign a risk impact level. 

Data Access Restrictions 

Limit vendor access strictly to the data necessary for them to perform their services. The more precise the controls, the better. Some institutions may choose to limit the days and times when vendors are permitted to access privileged resources. However data access is set up, colleges and universities should regularly review access and flag suspicious behavior. 

Build a Cybersecurity Framework

Many universities create cybersecurity frameworks that specify security guidelines and best practices for vendors. This provides structure and well-defined security requirements across all vendors to limit blind spots and vulnerabilities. 

Managing payments vendor relationships – and security – can be complex. Working with a team of seasoned payments professionals can unlock insights and streamline processes in ways that save time and money. 

If you’re evaluating higher education vendor security risks, we can help. Contact us today for a free consultation. Our team is adept at evaluating potential risks in the payment chain and implementing tailored solutions to keep your university safe. 


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