Protecting what is of value isn’t always about dollars and cents

When you think of the cost of a security breach in your network, the immediate thought is often a dollar amount; for example how much money has the breach caused in lost sales? Consequently, many think that private enterprises are the only ones that are prone to be at risk for attacks on their networks. The fact is public sector, educational institutions and non-profit organisations are just as much at risk and the potential costs are both great and varied.

While public sector or educational institutions may not undertake as many financial transactions as a commercial enterprise, they do utilize their networks to transact data and at times, large amounts of data. In the case of a government department, this may be in the form of personal data of its constituents. For an educational institution, it may be in the form of a key research project or vital intellectual property (IP). While this may not have any immediate dollar value, if it is missing or has been stolen, then the concerns for those that own the data may feel the same if there was a direct and tangible financial cost involved.

It is commonly accepted that the nature of attacks on the network have become more complex recently. What has also changed is the origin of these attacks. No longer are they the work of independent hackers who are after notoriety. Attacks are becoming more organised, more structured and come from organised groups (at times, state sponsored as well) who are after financial gain by either direct methods or obtaining data or IP to profit from.

For example, let’s look at the case of a university and the impact a network attack could have on their operations. More often than not, professors and researchers are conducting projects that may be in collaboration with other universities either locally or internationally. As such, there is a lot of IP that would be traversing over the network. If this IP is stolen via a security breach, the impacts on the university would be more than just the loss of the IP. Such a breach would have a negative impact on the reputation of the institution, which would affect those that want to work with them collaboratively and the researchers that would want to put their name to that institution. This would cause an impact on potential enrollments that would lead to a decline in both their rankings against other universities and funding both from student fees and private and public sector sources. The result is that the university is then constantly on the back foot and put up as a poster child of what ‘not’ to do; which has been the fate of many a commercial organisation that has been impacted by a security breach.

This is why organisations such as Research and Education Advanced Network New Zealand Ltd. (REANNZ) have recognised the importance of having a secure network so that their member universities can conduct research activities securely. They understand that what these institutions do is not only valuable, but also is at risk by those who want to access valuable IP. They also recognise the importance of being proactive in these security measures rather than waiting until there is a breach, where it is too late to save valuable information being lost or sold for financial gain.

Irrespective of the industry (profit or non-profit), all organisations are increasingly becoming dependent on their network to deliver reliability and security. As such, all organisations should be looking at how they can increase the level of visibility that they have in the network, so that they can better manage their network to identify any breach as soon as they can, as well as highlighting and resolving any performance issues as soon as possible. This could be the difference between enhancing your organisation’s reputation and damaging it irrevocably.

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