UGC tells institutes to create cyber security ecosystem, Mumbai colleges ask how
The University Grants Commission (UGC) has asked all higher educational institutions to create a cyber security ecosystem on campuses but colleges in Mumbai say they are ill-prepared to do so.
On August 28, UGC—the apex body governing all higher education institutes in the country—followed up on its instructions to strengthen the cyber security systems of the colleges. The first communication on the matter was made by UGC on November 25, 2020, and was later followed by a notice with guidelines on February 19 this year.
The regulatory body instructed all higher educational institutes to prepare a calendar of events and organise awareness campaigns, hackathons, competitions, and workshops on cyber security on campuses to help students deal with new-age crimes.
“Most colleges are not aware of what constitutes cybercrime. Especially, now that classes and assessments are being held online, the line between what is official and unofficial communication is blurring,” said the principal of a suburban college on the condition of anonymity.
While most colleges still consider email as an official mode of communication aside from physical notices and circulars, teachers and principals agreed that many share questions, important links and assessment via social media such as chat services. Most colleges record their online classes to monitor any wrongdoings.
Last year, when colleges were forced to switch to online education following the Covid-19 pandemic, St Xavier’s College in Dhobi Talao, put up ‘netiquettes’ for online education.
Rajendra Shinde, principal, St Xavier’s said the netiquettes also included information on what constitutes misdemeanour, how to handle cyberattacks and the consequences of an attack or misdemeanour.
“The netiquettes have been uploaded on to the homepage of our website so students can have easy access. It mentions what is acceptable, what’s not and how to report any issues,” Shinde added.
In the netiquettes section, the college mentions a ‘zero-tolerance policy’ and strict disciplinary action to a host of incidents such as unauthorised attendance, online abuse and threats.
“All the online lectures/virtual classes will be video recorded and so will be the activities on the chat box. Any misdemeanour on video or in chat boxes will be recorded and will be used as evidence whilst reporting to the cyber cell/police,” the post says.
The UGC, in its communication last year, said, “Cybercrime is a complex environment consisting of interactions between people, software and services, supported by Information Communication Technology devices and networks. It is vulnerable to a wide variety of incidents, whether intentional or accidental, manmade or natural… it has been decided that cyber security awareness should start at school level… all higher educational institutes are requested to take appropriate action on the implementation of the cyber security awareness.”
UGC’s instructions come in the wake of a spate of cyberattacks on the websites of educational institutes.
Check Point Research, an organisation that publishes reports on cyberattacks, released a report in August stating that India topped the number of cyberattacks in the education sector. Organisations in the education sector in South Asia recorded the highest number of attacks and India was the most targeted country in the sector, followed by Italy, Israel, Australia and Turkey.
Last October, the distance education wing of the University of Mumbai (MU) had to postpone its exams following a cyberattack on its website. Many students logged in to appear for the exam online but could not access the question paper. The problem went on for at least two days. Around 9,000 students of IDOL (Institute of Distance and Open Learning) had their third-year Bachelor of Commerce and Arts exams scheduled. However, more than 90% could not access the exam link.
Colleges, however, said that the university administration had not yet asked them to conduct awareness programmes or competitions.
“If UGC says we need to have an ecosystem in place, what does it mean? What kind of infrastructure is required? Do we need to have resource persons in place?” asked the principal of another college.
Ravindra Kulkarni, pro vice chancellor, MU, did not respond to calls or messages despite repeated attempts.