Campus security: Keeping safe and secure

We are all familiar with security officers and CCTV cameras, but what else do universities have in their digital armoury for fighting crime on campus? And what challenges is Covid-19 presenting for our data security? Cathy Parnham investigates

From protecting your personal safety to fending off cybersecurity attacks, campus security poses myriad challenges for universities. There is a range of tech on hand as well as specialist units to tackle the range of crimes targeted against our universities.

Keeping students and staff safe is paramount, not only in terms of personal safety but also in ensuring that they are not victim to cybercrime, that any networks they are accessing are secure and that any unwanted visitors are prevented from accessing campus buildings.

Parents need to trust educational institutions to look after their children – Keith Carey, Salto


Keeping an array of campus buildings secure is not without its challenges. Whereas keys can be lost and need replacing, together with the locks – and potentially copied by anyone unscrupulous – electronic access can give you a simpler, safer solution in just one card.

Keith Carey of Salto Systems highlights the advantages such tech offers: “Modern smartcard or mobile technology enables you to integrate all your student and staff physical security needs into a single card or mobile key, providing more convenient and secure access – and more control for you.”

Plus, Carey tells us, smartcard/mobile tech enables universities to manage multi-site access from a PC – so no key is needed.

Of course, the chance of mislaying your smartcard is no different to losing your key(s)! But your card can easily be deleted from the system and another issued. Should someone find your lost card and try to use it, Carey says, “not only will it not open the door, but the system will tell you that someone tried to open the door with a lost and deleted card”.

Many campuses have some form of electronic access. But if you are moving to digital tech – or need to update what you have – Carey advises: “The principal objectives of a good access control system should always be simplicity of operation and the reduction of time needed to manage it, without the loss of functionality, flexibility, control or security. It should ensure future expansion needs are catered for, without having to upgrade at a later date, while enabling control over who has access to what, where and when.”

Carey makes the point that with “all the pressures on university funding, it is easy to overlook good security, but parents need to trust educational institutions to look after their children.

“So, it is vital that [universities] provide effective 24/7 security to ensure both students and staff are safe and protected at all times.”

Handling a security breach

Should you have an emergency situation, such as an intruder or fire, smart access control offers ways of keeping everyone safe. Carey says, “Many systems incorporate an effective automatic door system that enables system operators to make an emergency lockdown or open a building or group of buildings.”

Additionally, such systems enable “local lockdown”, says Carey, enabling an authorised user such as a lecturer “to put their electronic locks into stand-alone lockdown mode from inside the classroom, in the event of an intruder in the corridor outside”.

And the reporting facilities smart access control offers can help locate students and staff on campus. In fact, such tools proved invaluable, Carey tells us, pre-Covid-19 lockdown in locating students and ensuring their safety.

“Warwick University, with in excess of 12,500 access-controlled doors, used our reporting facilities to help locate students still resident on campus.

“Doing so enabled them to get an idea of overall numbers and contact them to help arrange either getting them home or just making sure they were looked after on campus,” says Carey.

Case study – Northumbria University

campus security

We spoke to John Anderson, head of security, mail and transport at Northumbria University, to find out what resources the university uses to protect its students and staff

We use a number of digital and technological solutions as part of the wider Security Strategy. This includes CCTV video management software, access control, intruder alarms, fire alarms, refuge alarms, digital radios system and a personal safety app which is free to all students and staff to download. All are monitored 24/7 in our security control room on our Newcastle City Campus.

Our methods outlined above and below have resulted in a 58% reduction in reported campus crime since 2007. SafeZone is one of several digital tools in use and is our primary tool for personal safety. The benefit of adopting advanced and more integrated approaches is that they enable us to have faster and better decision-making in emergencies using real-time feedback. Early response and intervention are key to preventing escalation.

SafeZone, in particular, allows the team to communicate quickly with individuals and/or groups; security receives alerts and pinpoints the location of anyone needing assistance. This allows us to deploy officers quicker – or alert police and other emergency responders, depending on the location and nature of the incident – and to keep track of ongoing situations as they develop.

Common campus crimes

Fortunately, instances of crimes on our campuses and in our managed accommodation are relatively low. Offences against the person are rare and most common crimes tend to be targeted at personal property including cycle thefts.

The University Security Strategy documents and steers our proactive measures, including the use of physical and human resource. The Strategy, including our partnership working with Safer Newcastle, the police and the Students’ Union, has resulted in the year-on-year reduction in reported campus crime mentioned above (58% reduction since 2007).

Town & gown initiatives

There are a number of initiatives working with Safer Newcastle partners and the Students Into Newcastle Forum. Northumbria police priorities include vulnerability, sexual offences, hate
crime and drugs offences. We work in partnership with the police and have a dedicated police officer on campus. We support several initiatives, including Operation Oak to address anti-social behaviour and crime prevention in communities where students reside.

Northumbria Police trains Workplace Hate Crime Champions. Northumbria University is committed to providing a safe and welcoming environment for all and champions inclusivity. We are the first university in the UK, working in partnership with Northumbria Police and Northumbria Students’ Union, to recruit and train Student Hate Crime Champions. These individuals provide confidential support for any of our student community who feel they may be a victim of hate crime. We currently have 25 students trained with a further 10 volunteers signed up and awaiting training.

Digital developments

We know that tech never stands still, so we asked Carey what’s next in terms of buildings security and the tracking/reporting it offers. He points to our smartphones: “Today’s students are digital natives and brought up with iPhones, androids and apps. They expect convenience as standard and mobile access gives it to them.

There is no need to register and be given a key card at the beginning of term; a virtual ‘key’ can be sent direct to their smartphone with access rights to their bedroom door and all the other doors they will need to use that term. At the end of year, the ‘key’ automatically deletes from their phone.”

Smartphones are such an integral part of our lives – and students, especially, are almost never without them, “so the virtual key is much safer than a plastic keycard, plus many students also use a pin code or fingerprint to open their smartphone so that’s additional security too”, adds Carey.


As we all know, cybersecurity is a 24/7 challenge. With staff and students in the UK – and across the globe – now accessing files and networks from home, are universities at an even greater threat of security breaches?

John Chapman, head of the security operations centre at Jisc, tells us that students may be more vulnerable to viruses and malware if they are using computers running unsupported operating systems to access resources and if their anti-virus software is not up to date.

As such, Jisc has devised some tips to help staff and students stay safe – particularly when using collaborative online platforms:

1. If you are rapidly deploying new tools, it is essential to check security settings and data protection settings.
2. Strong, unique passwords provide additional protection for important accounts, and using password managers can help with this.
3. If multi-factor authentication is an option, this can be a good way of improving security, too.
4. When using collaboration tools, being aware of where you share links to meetings is key. Are you posting the link where only your invited guests can see it? Some collaboration tools allow the use of meeting passwords. These can be useful in preventing unwanted visitors.
5. Be aware of what you’re sharing, both in view of your camera and if sharing your screen. Is there sensitive material on your desk or behind you when in a video call? Sharing individual application windows is also safer than sharing your entire screen.
6. Think about the content of your calls and chats, especially if you’re discussing confidential matters. Is the service you’re using sufficiently secure? How are records of chats and calls stored?

Dodgy emails

With Covid-19 comes a range of scams by criminals exploiting our vulnerabilities. Chapman points to a recent NCSC article highlighting everything from bogus emails to phishing attempts.

… if a dodgy email arrives in your inbox, it isn’t as easy to ask the person next to you if it is legitimate or not – John Chapman

Phishing emails have been a threat for years, but, says Chapman, “… working in a more isolated environment means that if a dodgy email arrives in your inbox, it isn’t as easy to ask the person next to you if it is legitimate or not, as you can do in an office or lecture theatre”.

Overall, however, universities, appear to be coping well, says Chapman, as many “are used to supporting some staff and students remotely, so there is already a lot of good practice that can be built on and we see this being shared between universities on various mailing lists and webinars.”

Industry comment: network security and coronavirus

We asked Simon Wilson, CTO, Aruba UK, and Andrew Brimson, CEO, KHIPU Networks, about threats, support and emerging tech

What are the current biggest security challenges for universities and how can they be supported?

Simon Wilson: While many applications and IT services are already in the cloud and available via the web, there are still some that require you to be physically in the building. Now the buildings are closed, universities must provide access to these services, so students can continue their courses. An added challenge is gaining access to implement new solutions which provide this access.

One way Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company, is supporting these efforts is through the use of its Virtual Intranet Access (VIA) and Remote Access Point (RAP) technology. Aruba VIA allows universities to use their existing wifi controllers to provide VPN access from the outside. Aruba RAPs again use existing controllers to extend the physical network to remote locations in a secure way.

Now, those with specialist equipment or high security requirements can still be part of the university network from anywhere and the requirement to install new equipment in the data centre is removed.
Looking to the future, there is a greater realisation that more can be done remotely. As a result, universities will see increased demands on their bandwidth. I think we will see accelerated uptake of wifi 6 and 5G.

Also, it will be some time before we are happy to be in crowded spaces. Organisations may be mandated to show and control how crowded a given space is, so we can make an informed choice over whether we go now, later or not at all. This will generate increased interest in location services – in particular, the new fine timing (802.11mc) capabilities of wifi 6.

Andrew Brimson: Planning for extended social distancing means more space to do less. Technology needs to reach across the entire real-estate, utilising space which may previously have not been considered for wifi or another selected use. We are seeing new federated systems like Eduroam and Govroam expand across the education, government and healthcare sectors. These need excellent, secure national and local authentication and role provisioning which is scalable, monitorable and supportable. Institutions are also relying further on cloud-based systems which entail a different approach to security. We have seen a significant rise in threats during the Covid-19 crisis, where criminals are seeking to take advantage of potentially weaker security.

You might also like: Campus security

Leave a Reply

Send an Invite...

Would you like to share this event with your friends and colleagues?