How to Get Essential Cybersecurity Messages to Resonate in Higher Ed

IT professionals in higher education want and need to keep learners informed about loss prevention and cybersecurity breaches. According to a survey by CDW involving 300 learners and 250 IT staff, the message might not be coming across. 

An example of this issue: 82% of IT professionals state that they require their learners to train with cybersecurity at least once annually. However, only 35% of learners reported that they were aware of this requirement. 

Likewise, 91% of IT professionals who experienced a breach of data stated that they shared news of the breach with the learner body on their campus, but only 26% of learners knew that there had been a breach. This is why it is so essential to relay cybersecurity messages throughout a higher education institution. 

Security Is a Concern

It’s no secret that the higher education sector is becoming a big target for cybersecurity attacks. Compared to other industries, higher education saw many significant influxes in data breaches – 103%, with over a 4,000% increase in the number of records affected between 2016 and 2017.

The survey by CDW found that 60% of institutions experienced breaches of data in 2018, and of those institutions, 29% experienced a loss of data. Three common intrusion methods were phishing attempts, malware, and DDOS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks. 

Thankfully, higher education learners are somewhat aware of the existing threat. About ¾ of learners were concerned about the ability that their institution had to protect their data. 

Closing the Communication Gap Through Improved Info Sharing

When considered holistically, these findings suggest that providing regular updates and ensuring that instruction on cybersecurity is available to learners will not be enough to decrease the threat of losing data. If network security is to be strengthened, institutions will need to find methods to ensure that important information reaches and resonates with learners. 

This is an outcome that many universities are battling with. Only 25% of learners reported that they consider their institution’s cybersecurity education and training effectively. 

Adopting an Interactive Approach

To engage users and improve cybersecurity awareness, many universities are applying an approach that is more interactive. For instance, learners at the University of Massachusetts Amherst can photograph themselves posing behind a large cutout of a fish, declaring that they will not be “the catch of the day.”

Every year, the Division of Info-Tech at Texas A&M University develops a game that encourages faculty, learners and staff to test their IT safety expertise. The 2017 version incorporated information about traditions at the university. 

These initiatives are good examples of creative responses to a problem. They work because they make communication between learners and IT users more interactive and engaging than a simple e-newsletter. 


It is more than worth the time to find the right solutions that work for your university campus, whether you’re a learner or an IT professional. It is important to ensure that cybersecurity messages reach university learners and staff and resonate with them.

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