Cyber security in Higher Education: Must know and must do.

7 March 2023 by Catalyst

They say any publicity is good publicity but when it comes to cyber attacks, no organisation wants to be making headlines.

According to various sources, security breaches have increased by 20% in Canada between 2019 and 2021 with 85.7% of Canadian companies having been affected by cyber criminals in 2021.

Globally, cyber attacks increased by 38% in 2022, compared to the previous year, with the top three most attacked industries being Education / Research, Government and Healthcare (Source).


The data published by Check Point Software indicates that education / research are targeted with over 2,300 attacks per organisation every week. The report warns that the rise of AI tools could be making things worse from a security point of view, allowing hackers to generate malicious code and emails more efficiently.

It is no surprise that for Higher Education providers, increased cyber security risk has come hand in hand with the shift to online and blended learning that has taken place over the last two years.

Attacks on Simon Fraser University and Lakehead University in 2021, for example, are some of the more notable examples in the higher education sector in Canada, especially as these two universities were attacked in the same month. As more data breach stories pop up for universities and colleges from all over the world, we can only wonder, how many more go unreported or undetected?

In general, Canada is doing well, ranking 13th in the list of countries of the cyber security strategy efficiency, but the fact that no organisation is 100% protected at all times remains true. These incidents, at a smaller or larger scale will continue to happen in our highly tech-driven world.

Must know:

  • No organisation is 100% secure
  • Average spend on security in Canada is up and is about 11.1% of organisations’ IT budgets
  • Successful attacks affected 78% of Canadian companies in 2020
  • In 2021 this figure rose to 85.7%
  • The average remediation cost for companies in Canada is $1.92million (with some reports claiming it to be as high as $5.4 million)


  • More than three quarters (76%) of Canadian University and College students are concerned about cyber safety, up 10% from pre-pandemic times
  • 79% feel the university or college are responsible for protecting students and
  • 46% say it would influence their decision to attend a university or college if the school was known to have experienced a data breach or had a reputation for weak cyber security
  • 44% of respondents say their school doesn’t provide enough training and resources to help ensure students’ personal information is protected from threats, yet
  • 49% say they follow the guidelines that their academic institutions do put out


Must do:

  • Review your security policies and procedures on a regular basis
  • Have a plan / appropriate support in place for when things do go wrong
  • Invest in ongoing education and training for staff and students, as well as random testing of security awareness and skills
  • Stick to regular software updates
  • Implement Single Sign On (SSO) and Multi-factor Authentication (MFA)
  • Host your sites in a secure cloud infrastructure where all the necessary updates, patches and backups are automated and orchestrated – using an experienced hosting and IT managed services provider, that specialises in complex enterprise level IT systems, will be your best bet; ideally, with 24/7 support

How secure is Moodle?

Moodle LMS is developed through a ‘security-by-design’ approach and supported by their global security community. The software is continuously tested and monitored, and achieves all privacy compliance obligations. Moodle also provides education and ongoing communication flows to their users and partners.

It is important to note however, that the software is just one part of the equation here. How it is managed and the infrastructure architecture it’s hosted in are other very important elements which are often beyond the software product provider’s control.

Why use a trusted certified Moodle partner?

While no one is 100% protected at all times, using a certified Moodle partner will definitely offer many benefits that will outweigh the costs, especially if you are dealing with a larger, more complex Moodle instance. Having years of experience with Moodle projects, a certified partner can help optimise your LMS, achieving quality, efficiency and cost savings all at the same time.

Not to mention the extra support, customisation options, spam protection, daily backups and priority access to new releases and security patches, which you will only get if you invest in a partnership with a trusted provider.

And if you can leverage your partner’s secure and highly optimised cloud infrastructure as well as 24/7 support, you will be in the best position to have peace of mind and be able to focus on teaching, learning as well as ongoing internal staff training and development.

If things do go wrong, those who have the right technical team behind them as well as 24/7 monitoring and support are always better off than those that don’t.

Catalyst IT have completed 100s of cloud migrations worldwide and provide fully managed cloud services to some of the largest LMS sites in all the regions we operate in. We are known for seamless and effortless cloud migration, high availability and fault tolerant architecture, reliable pipelines – delivering latest enhancements and security updates as soon as they become available, with 24/7 support nationally, regionally and globally.

Our relationship with Moodle HQ dates back 20+ years and we are regular contributors to Moodle developments and improvements. By working together as one global team, we are able to deliver a seamless experience to our clients, from the onset of the project through to ongoing maintenance and support.

Our contributions to the Moodle project and the broader open source community have been recognised with multiple awards over the last few years.

We are trusted by major universities, colleges and other higher education providers, as well as Government and major organisations in the health, not-for-profit and commercial sectors.

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