Hackers increasingly attack universities, and admins are reaching for their wallets

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Cyberattacks against universities in the United States are proliferating, and the trend made the front page of the New York Times Wednesday. Attacks could stifle innovation — think of all the patents awarded to professors — and to keep that from happening universities could boost demand for security technology even more than they already have.

A dean at the University of Wisconsin told the Times that his school gets hit with 90,000 to 100,000 hacking attempts from China every day, excluding those from other countries. And the number of attacks is going up exponentially, Rodney Petersen of the nonprofit IT- and education-oriented Educause is quoted as saying. Schools are spending more to detect attacks, and as a result more incidents are becoming known.

Meanwhile, the sources of attacks can be difficult to pin down, even though civic officials and school leaders suspect that many of them originate in China. Those wayward expeditions can cost a lot of money and don’t always turn up answers.

Still, schools are willing to shell out. The cybersecurity budget at University of California, Berkeley is twice as large as it was last year.

But not all universities necessarily want to make their digital operations so locked down as to get in the way of openness. It could be a matter of balancing interests differently going forward.

While schools want to keep their data as protected from theft as possible, the economic and operational advantages of moving to the cloud are sure to be on administrators’ minds. It’s reasonable to wonder if computing in the cloud could be more prone to attacks — or if it would keep data safer. I’ll be discussing this topic from a European angle with executives from CA Technologies, Microsoft, Terremark and VMware at our Structure:Europe conference in London on Sept. 19.

Cloud or no, schools are clearly trying to figure out how to keep their infrastructure secure, right alongside large companies that have been subjected to cyberattacks, from Facebook to the Washington Post. And the government has plenty reason for worry about cyberattacks, too. Hackers have repeatedly infiltrated defense contractor QinetiQ North America, and they might have also gained access to certain U.S. Army computers.

This state of affairs has created the right circumstances for a gold rush for solid security technology on the part of investors. Now, with schools seeing problems and discovering more hacking incidents, it looks like the addressable market could get larger.

Feature image courtesy of Flickr user Kristina.

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