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July 16: Financial Services Roundtable

Episode 28 - Securing Higher Education Networks with Fatema Bannat Wala

Observability and network security in Higher Education

June 23rd, 2020
John Porcaro

In this week’s episode, John has a conversation with higher education security engineer Fatema Bannat Wala about the challenges of providing network security in a university setting. She has experience working as a security engineer for the University of Delaware and is currently working for Lawrence Berkeley National Lab in the Energy Sciences Network.


Listen to the podcast: Episode 28 - Securing Higher Education Networks with Fatema Bannat Wala

Fatema shares how she was drawn to transition from being a software engineer to being a security engineer because of diverse and novel challenges security provides on a daily basis. She explains the forces driving those challenges – universities have a wide variety of data they’d like to protect, a never-ending rapid rotation of users, inconsistent mobile device IPs, and a wide variety of compliance regulations like HIPAA and PCI.

Universities deal with a variety of data. The crown jewels for a university is the data that it is the custodian of, and that data comes from the students. That data may be a student's personal reports. That data may be a student's health records. That data may be payments from credit cards. That data has to be protected.”
Fatema Bannat Wala

University Security Administrator

She shares security best practices and defense strategies for protecting university assets. She recommends practicing network segmentation in order to prevent a compromise in one causing additional problems in another.

“Centralizing all the logs in one location greatly simplifies a lot of processes. A centralized solution for all the logs lets us correlate them efficiently in real time. It's a great help because now you don't have to go to 50 different systems.”

Diving into one specific example that shows the value of exploring logs, Fatema shares an example of how a university point of sale (POS) system was actively causing a security risk and bypassing the university’s DNS servers. It turns out it was using a static configuration designed to reduce failures, but also by default bypassed the network's security settings. The problem went unnoticed by the people setting up the POS system and without Fatema’s intervention, it would have been possible for an intruder on one POS system to start exfiltrating the network.

Fatema provides tips for security engineers getting started. She points to the value of EDUCAUSE, a nonprofit organization that specializes in sharing technology resources and providing mentorship for higher education users in technology.


Listen to the full podcast and gain a greater appreciation of the many threats faced by security engineers working in higher education and a few ideas for dealing with them.

To hear more security use cases for centralized log management in university settings, join us for a Higher Education Roundtable featuring guests from Brigham Young University, the University of Virginia, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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