HBCUs Need to Upgrade Their Cybersecurity and Student Freedom Initiative is Here to Help

A laptop computer sits on a table

We find ourselves halfway through 2021, and cybersecurity problems are on the rise at our nation’s colleges and universities. Experts say that there is no way to fully “solve” the problem, meaning stop all cybersecurity issues, but they do say that through strategic investments and proper planning, these issues can be managed.

According to Forbes, 2020 broke all records when it came to data lost in breaches and the number of cyberattacks on companies, government organizations and on individuals. The sophistication of the attacks has also continued to improve — making the attacks more difficult to prevent or stop. According to a survey conducted by IDG Research Services, more than 80% of senior IT and IT security leaders believe that their organizations lack sufficient protection against cyberattacks, despite increased IT security investments that were made in 2020 to deal with distributed IT and work-from-home challenges.

An Opportunity for HBCUs to Protect Students and More

At Prairie View A&M University in Texas, a historically Black college near Houston, classes were shut down after a February 2021 cyber attack. According to the University’s Chief Information Officer, Tony Moore, the school was in the process of implementing two-factor authentication when the attack happened, further proving the importance of timely security upgrades. Moore says that if some historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) are struggling to update their security to meet federal guidelines, collaboration could be key to making necessary improvements.

One initiative working to strengthen such collaboration is Student Freedom Initiative. Robert F. Smith is the chairman of Student Freedom Initiative and helped start the program with a personal contribution of $50 million, which was paired with a $50 million contribution from the Fund II Foundation, of which Smith is founding director and President. The initiative is currently working on a plan to help close cybersecurity compliance gaps at HBCUs, along with other project plans. The initiative’s cybersecurity efforts are currently funded by a $100 million gift from Cisco, and will be free for participating HBCUs to utilize. The funding and continual support will come from Cisco and the assessment and installation services will be provided by American Virtual Cloud Technologies, an Atlanta-based IT firm.

The Executive Director of Student Freedom Initiative, Mark Brown, said “what we knew is HBCUs do not have the deep pockets and endowments that some of their counterparts might have.” That knowledge helped guide the development of this plan, and allowed Student Freedom Initiative to queue up help, just as many HBCUs need it more than ever. The plan was rolled out to an initial cohort of nine HBCUs and will continue to expand.

An Investment Worth Making in Security and Institutional Trust

Spending resources bolstering your institution’s cybersecurity is a good investment. Robert F. Smith, who said that helping HBCUs upgrade their technology, rose to the top of his priorities because outdated security systems could lead some HBCUs to no longer distribute federal financial aid. Smith said this could make schools cease to be operational, and added that these upgrades were essential capacity building, especially for schools like HBCUs.

Learn more about the Cisco, AVC Technologies and Student Freedom Initiative partnership.