Safe and sound

Steve Wright looks at some of the measures that are making modern campuses as safe and secure as possible

Campus security is an increasingly important issue for universities competing to attract students, who rightly expect high standards of on-site protection to set against tuition fees and accommodation costs. And personal safety, together with the safeguarding of personal possessions, ranks high on the agenda for prospective students and their parents. 

The challenge is complicated by the fact that university campuses are semi-public areas, with thousands of daily visitors to their lecture theatres, laboratories, libraries, computing centres, offices, sports halls and art studios. A balance must therefore be struck between ease of access and effective protection – for students and staff, along with service contractors, delivery drivers and other visitors – some of whom may require 24-hour access. How, then, can universities maximise their on-campus security? 

Robin Mohan, CEO of ETEC (formerly Emeiatec), providers of leading-edge cybersecurity solutions and services, points out that complacency can grow in these friendly, like-minded places. “Universities foster a great sense of community, and students and staff can easily forget the importance of safety on campus. There is a need for better education of the risks that these shared spaces, particularly accommodation, can engender.”

For example, building access and campus services are increasingly usually verified via digital fobs and cards – but, Robin warns, these digitised items and their codes can be easily duplicated by thieves and transferred onto new fobs. “Students must keep their personal belongings safe and should report all missing keycards and fobs immediately – as well as any suspicions that these digital access cards or codes are being used without authorisation.”

“While students’ own security comes at the top of the agenda, protecting property such as valuable ICT and electronic equipment on campus is also vital,” adds Angela Singleton, press officer at Selectamark, a leading supplier of property marking, forensic coding and asset identification solutions. “One way to do this is by using a property marking system such as Selectamark permanent marking, which leaves a visible mark on an item, clearly identifying the owner.” 

Selectamark also produces an Asset ID system and a wide range of asset labels under the SelectaLabel brand – as well as the forensic marking product SelectaDNA, the first true DNA security system in the property marking field, proven to reduce burglaries by up to 85% and now being used extensively at UK universities.

SelectamarkDNA marks valuables

“Every year, thousands of freshers arrive on campus with an array of gadgets including laptops, digital cameras, smartphones, games consoles and iPads,” Angela explains. “Many universities arrange security marking events to mark their valuable electronic equipment with SelectaDNA, which provides a unique DNA code that links the item to its owner.”

At the London School of Economics, over 2,000 items of university property have been marked by the university’s in-house security team, and SelectaDNA kits are offered to students to mark their own valuable property. Elsewhere Securitas, which looks after security provision at the University of Hertfordshire, is using SelectaDNA to mark valuable equipment in a new, state-of-the-art Apple ICT lab containing iMacs and iPads. SelectaDNA Spray is also being fitted to the doors of the lab, meaning that any intruders would be sprayed with an incriminating DNA spray, linking them to the crime scene.

James Brown, MD of Selectamark, concludes: “Property and asset marking solutions are truly making a difference in the education sector and are helping police and communities reduce crime and protect assets – all with the added bonus that they are very simple to use, low-cost and highly effective.” 

Trevor Wallace, MD of Metro Security (GB) PLC, offers a simple checklist for optimising campus security. “Each campus site should be surveyed to identify the types of risk faced, along with localised threats specific to the campus’ location – city-centre or rural, etcetera. Appropriate ‘target hardening’ measures, as part of any security audit, will thereby reflect the potential threats posed. Thereafter, regular reviews are recommended to ensure the site’s security ‘envelope’ remains effective and adaptable.”

The on-site security team can then create what Trevor terms ‘onion-ring’ security layers, beginning with boundary protection measures at the perimeter to control entry. Then, within the site itself, further monitoring is required to guard against potential security breaches and risks such as vandalism, theft, arson and other criminal damage. University security staff should, if possible, oversee entry to the site, patrol facilities, check operational systems and monitor electronic equipment. 

Solutions can now be more holistic and cross-campus, too. “A combination of advancing technological capabilities, increasing cost-effectiveness and integration potential now enables universities to deploy a variety of electronic security systems,” Trevor explains. “For example, IP-addressable cameras can be redeployed around a site quickly, easily and inexpensively to suit changing requirements, site configuration changes and changing security threats.

“Previously, systems were generally separate and worked in isolation from each other, but more recently the introduction of common communications protocols and an open network approach have allowed data to be shared and exchanged. And, by using power over Ethernet (PoE) cabling, IP-enabled cameras can be positioned and connected over long cable lengths, without the need for an electrician.” 

University of Hertfordshire

Student accommodation is one example where such integration pays dividends. Access control measures can comprise, for example, electronic door locking systems interfaced with door-mounted card readers or keypad devices, offering effective room protection, combined with the ability to quickly and easily replace access control cards if they’re lost or stolen, or when the student vacates the room. “This flexible, secure and customer-friendly door access control can also be integrated with internal surveillance cameras,” Trevor adds. “Control-room security staff can be automatically alerted to movements out-of-hours, for instance, when intruders may be present and accommodation areas are more vulnerable. The access control system can also be integrated with the university’s student and staff management system, ensuring a single point of data entry and thereby providing consistent information across the site, as well as reducing administration time.”

CCTV and lighting solutions can mix the old and the new, Trevor advises. “IP-enabled CCTV systems can also incorporate older, analogue cameras and other digital units, allowing all equipment – not just more recent digital acquisitions – to continue playing its role. Meanwhile, cost-efficient LED lighting will assist cameras’ low-light capabilities, as well as acting as a deterrent to potential muggers. This type of illumination offers reduced running costs through its lower power consumption, along with reliability and durability.”

Of course, cybersecurity forms a large part of the modern-day security agenda. Steve Kennett is security director at Jisc, providers of digital solutions for UK education and research. “Universities cannot afford not to invest in protecting their network. Implementing cybersecurity controls to protect systems can be expensive, with return on investment difficult to quantify. But universities shouldn’t underestimate its importance: the threat landscape is increasing and, with it, the demand for data security.” Institutions should install robust web filtering and email security services, says Steve. “The former helps safeguard users from inadvertent exposure to illegal or inappropriate material, while the latter spots vulnerabilities from threats such as phishing, malware and spam, and has tools to protect against domain name system (DNS) spoofing that could see users unknowingly being directed to malicious websites.”

“Finally, it’s worth developing (and regularly reviewing) an internet safety policy that encompasses current technologies and social media. Be clear about what is expected of staff and students, and deliver relevant training. You may want to cover areas like the legalities of copyright and music downloads, plagiarising content from the web, explicit material, and online bullying.”

Another key issue for on-campus security is mobile device management. To protect a university’s network from cyber attacks, it is crucial that universities have a cybersecurity solution that monitors web traffic on these devices – and that students and staff are vigilant about what networks they are using. “A web gateway solution such as iboss guarantees a university’s network and data safety,” ETEC’s Robin Mohan explains. “Students themselves must always remember to only connect to authenticated Wi-Fi networks on campus, thus keeping their devices free from malware and their personal data secure.” 

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