Incident Response for Universities and Colleges

University Cybersecurity
Cyber crime, cyber attack, hacking, computer desktop

Incident Response for Universities and Colleges

The ultimate aim of the incident response team for colleges and universities is to promote and uphold an environment that ensures confidentiality and integrity for the students while concurrently enhancing the availability of the data and the university’s systems to its stakeholders. The universities handle volumes of data of students every year, and this could include their confidential information and banking details. 

There are all chances of these data to be breached, mandating the need for an incident response team on campus. The team’s incident response activities will include securely handling the information and data, analyzing the incident, and responding to the incident appropriately to manage and maintain the level of information systems in the university. 

Need For Competent Incident Response Practices In Universities And Colleges

The incident of data breaches and information security breaches are inevitable not just for organizations and enterprises but also for universities and colleges as well, as they deal with the students’ sensitive data. Thus it is important to have an effective incident response team in the college premises, to keep the information of the university community intact. 

The data breaches, security incidents, and even data losses are stretching their ugly hand on colleges and universities that deal with students’ sensitive information. Unauthorized access can steal students’ personal information, their bank details, and even protected health information. 

The incident management programs help universities and educational institutions respond to security incidents appropriately, maintain confidentiality integrity, and protect IT resources and data. If the institution fails to plan and falls prey to information security incidents, then it can spoil the reputation of the institution and breach its confidential information and sensitive data.

Process Of Formulating A Competent Incident Response Plan

The main goal of the incident response team is to undertake incidents effectively and mitigate the incident’s consequences on the institution. Also, the lessons learned will help in reducing the instances of such incidences in the future. The need for having an effective information security incident response team in the educational institution is diverse, and the process of managing the plan includes the following. 

  • The university should first ascertain what encompasses the information security incident in the university campus and devise the schematic classification of the types of incidents possible along their severity.
  • The general counsel for incidence response should be framed. They have to list the various kinds of security incidents which demand specific handling and the impact of the incidents individually.
  • Establish roles and responsibilities and specific procedures within the university community to identify incidents and streamline the incident response process. 
  • The technical capabilities of the incident response team and their agility to identify and counter the incidents immediately should be delineated. 
  • Ascertain how the Information systems support could be attained to create an effective incident response process. 
  • The guide should be formulated for managing incidents all over their lifecycle and not just at the end phase.
  • Double check the legal and contractual communications requirements which are required for the information security incidents of institutions.
  • The final step is to adapt and take advantage of the lessons learned from past incidents to improve the incident response activities constantly. 

Stages In Formulating The Incident Response Plan For Colleges And Universities

An effective information security incident response process includes four primary stages, and this can also be referred to as the incident life cycle. The components of this cycle are as follows:


The incident response process should be backed up with policies and procedures for handling incidents appropriately. These documents should be concise and clear and should encompass all the steps to be taken by every member of the incident response team in the event of a security incident.

All the required documents should be kept ready, well in advance. At this stage, the institution will focus on the resources to perform incident response activities, including personnel who are trained in handling incidents and developing a formal incident reporting process for the entire campus. The incident response policy of an institution should encompass the following.

  • Objectives and the purpose of the policy
  • Scope of the policy
  • Definition of what a security incident is and to which the college would respond
  • Rating and prioritizing the incident response activities
  • Description of the roles and responsibilities of the team members.
  • The point of contact to whom the incident should be reported. 

It is also evident to add several supplementary information to the incident response process with the help of supporting documents such as a flow chart of how the security incidents will be handled on the campus, having a website to report suspected incidents, communicating the detailed procedure for reporting the incident, etc. 

The members of the incident response team should be detailed and trained in their roles and responsibilities in the preparation stage itself. At times, general counsel members might require advanced training such as forensic analysis, use of data examination and recovery tools, etc. 

Detection And Analysis Stage

Detecting the impact of the incident is an important step in the incident response process of universities and colleges. The end-users can report the incidents, and they can also be detected and reported by trained personnel. But all campus personnel should be trained on the ways to detect and report security incidents.

The institutions should also have technical controls in place to automate the process of detecting and handling incidents. Some common processes of the security incident response plan include accessing the server logs for unauthorized access, monitoring router logs and firewalls for security incidents, observing network performances, etc. Institutions can use network intrusion detection systems to manage data from diverse sources, create alerts and take steps to avoid unauthorized access and other malicious activities. 

Apart from detecting information security incidents, it should also be assessed periodically to monitor the level of severity. The team will also analyze the scope of the incident and the resources, and the quantum of sensitive data involved. All the data that has been generated during this stage will help in prioritizing incidents, and the lessons learned will help to stay vigilant in the future.

Eradication And Recovery Of The Threat

Generally, the security incidents happen in no sequential format without any clear associations between them. The roles and responsibilities of the team are to ascertain the severity and scope of the underlying incident and strengthen their capacity for efficient responding to information security. Their additional responsibilities are,

  • Confine the incident at its point of contact to prevent additional disruption and spread to other systems. 
  • Conduct additional investigation for incidents that deal with sensitive data and with higher severity.
  • The next important work is to preserve, secure and document the evidence. 
  • Implement additional monitoring to look into the incident-relevant activity in detail.
  • If the impact of the incident is severe, then the IT team and the institution’s leaders should be involved to coordinate with the legal team. 

Post-Incident Review

This is a very important aspect of the security incident response plan. This is a significant step, and it is critically overlooked. During this phase, the information security incident response team will identify the lessons learned and frame regulations on how they have to handle information security in the future.

The general counsel will hold a meeting to learn how best they were responding to information security and identify improvement areas. They will review the actions that were put into use and document the entire process for future use and metrics. They will also determine if any high-level issues need to be escalated to the management and the legal community. 

The general counsel will also upgrade their security incident response plan with definite metrics to help the university to identify the cause of information security incidents. It will also help them assess the extent of damage, the techniques used to maintain confidentiality integrity of data, and their consequent results. This helps the university community to recover the damages caused to the information system and reduce the downtime of reacting to future incidents. 

Documenting Incident Response

The successful implementation of the security incident response plan requires careful planning and sequential training of the university community to be effective and useful. It is appropriate for universities to run simulated breaches and record how the team responds to information security breaches. This will help in fine-tuning the information security incident response plan and eliminate the threat at its point of contact. 

All the suspected events that involve the breach of protected health information and unauthorized access to confidential data should be reported to the information security officer of the university over the phone or in person, or through email. All information security incidents should be reported first to the IT support personnel in the department and then to the ISO.

Bottom Line

Every university and college holds a specific team to report unauthorized access to its systems and other information security incidents, such as access to protected health information of students, bank details of employees and students, etc.

The role of the team is to maintain confidentiality, the integrity of the information systems and limit the threat at its point of contact. Almost all major universities and colleges have devised their unique ways of responding to information security to maintain and uphold the university’s dignity and reputation and make it the best place for the students to study.

Tags :
Share This :

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Have A Question?

Contact us for a Free Risk Assessment

(202) 318-6114