What You Should Know About Cybersecurity Procurement in Higher Education

The number of cyberattacks at colleges and universities is increasing at a rapid pace. The statistics tell a sobering story:

  • The average education and research institution faces more than 2,500 attacks every week—a 15% increase from 2022.
  • Two-thirds of higher education institutions have been hit by ransomware.
  • 74% of successful ransomware attacks resulted in encrypted data.
  • According to IBM’s 2023 Cost of a Data Breach Report, the average cost for a breach in higher education is $3.65 million.

Besides the evolving and increasing threats, higher education institutions are also dealing with a dramatically expanding online footprint. Added cloud resources and Software as a Service (SaaS) applications provide additional threat vectors that did not exist just a few short years ago. Remote connectivity, online education, and more connected devices provide more areas for cybercriminals to exploit.

The average enterprise company now has 135,000 endpoint devices—about half of which are unmanaged. Many of these devices, like IoT cameras and sensors, do not have built-in encryption or security and can be hacked. Colleges and universities have extensive endpoints as well—all of which need to be protected.

Yet, many higher education institutions are struggling to thwart these threats. It is increasingly challenging to find and keep IT workers and even tougher to find cybersecurity experts. Nearly three-quarters of campus leaders say they are facing moderate or severe challenges in recruiting and retaining IT employees.

At the same time, declining enrollment, changes in funding mechanisms, and higher costs are stretching budgets thin and making it harder to add new costs.

Add up the challenges:

  • Increasing cyber-attacks
  • Expanding points of attack
  • IT labor challenges
  • Tight budgets

For these reasons and more, colleges and universities are increasingly turning to managed cybersecurity services in higher education to protect their networks and data.

Managed Cybersecurity Services in Higher Education

Managed cybersecurity services for higher education institutions offer a robust shield against the ever-evolving threat landscape.

A managed security service provider (MSSP) takes a comprehensive and proactive approach to protect your networks and data, using best practices and a layered defense. MSSP examples for higher education cybersecurity include:

Proactive Monitoring and Threat Detection

Think of managed cybersecurity as having a dedicated security team, operating 24/7. These experts constantly monitor your network for suspicious activity, leveraging advanced tools like intrusion detection and prevention systems (IDS/IPS), endpoint security, and next-generation firewalls.

However, it doesn’t stop there. These services also delve deeper, proactively hunting for vulnerabilities in your systems and identifying security gaps before hackers can exploit them. Unlike a passive approach that waits for attacks to happen, managed cybersecurity takes a proactive stance—mitigating attack vectors and frustrating hackers.

For example, MSSPs operate by analyzing existing software products and ensuring they are up to date with the latest security patches. While this should be a standard operating procedure, many academic institutions are juggling a significant amount of hardware, software, and cloud resources along with legacy applications that may pre-date modern hacker tactics. A 2023 study of universities uncovered a troubling pattern. Software products with known exploited vulnerabilities were detected at 48% of all higher education institutions examined. For the top 500 colleges and universities, the results were even worse at 70%.

Compliance and Privacy

Academia operates within a complex web of data security and privacy regulations, from PCI DSS for financial information to HIPAA for healthcare data and FERPA for student records. Managed cybersecurity providers become your trusty guides, ensuring your institution adheres to relevant regulations.

Higher education cyber security contracts for managed services can encrypt sensitive data, implement robust access controls, and provide expert guidance, keeping you safe from both legal repercussions and reputational damage.

Optimization and Training

The benefits of managed cybersecurity extend beyond immediate threat detection and remediation. These services help optimize your entire security posture through formal assessments, pinpointing areas for improvement and recommending concrete steps to shore up your defenses. It’s like having a team of security architects scrutinize your digital fortress, offering a blueprint for a more robust and impregnable structure.

But security is not solely about technology. Human error remains a significant vulnerability. That’s why many managed cybersecurity providers offer comprehensive training programs for students, faculty, and staff to heighten awareness about threats and cybersecurity to reduce risk. Even with the best defenses in place, you need to train anyone that accesses your systems. A Stanford researcher reported that 88% of data breaches are caused by employee mistakes, such as clicking on a phishing email or malicious link.

MSSP vs. MDR in Colleges

Depending on your need, you may want to deploy full-scale MSSP across your entire network. You may also want to choose from different levels of protection, such as Managed Detection and Response (MDR). MDR is a specialized service that focuses on threat detection and response, including:

  • Advanced threat hunting
  • Incident response expertise
  • Forensic analysis
  • Real-time threat intelligence

Many colleges and universities engage MSSPs and also use an MDR solution.

The 5Cs of Cybersecurity

Managed cyber security services in higher education can help colleges and universities deploy the five Cs. What are the five cs of cybersecurity in higher education? They are crucial elements of building effective cybersecurity:

  1. Change
  2. Compliance
  3. Cost
  4. Continuity
  5. Coverage


Cyber threats are evolving. You need to be vigilant to stay on top of emerging threats, and continuous monitoring to identify potential threats. Keys include:

  • Conducting frequent risk assessments to identify vulnerabilities and prioritize mitigation efforts.
  • Regularly updating software, patching vulnerabilities, and implementing new security technologies as they become available.
  • Training your staff and students in the latest cybersecurity threats and best practices.


There is a long list of regulations, policies, and laws that govern data privacy and security in higher education. Stay compliant and avoid costly penalties by:

  • Identifying the relevant laws and regulations that apply to your institution, such as HIPAA for healthcare data and FERPA for student records.
  • Establishing clear guidelines for data handling, incident response, and acceptable use of technology.
  • Conducting regular audits and addressing any gaps to ensure you are always meeting regulatory requirements.


Cybersecurity may seem expensive, but it is a fraction of the cost of a data breach. Managed cybersecurity services in higher education can detect and prevent breaches.

When evaluating higher education cyber security contracts, you should:

  • Conduct cost-benefit analyses to evaluate the ROI of cybersecurity solutions.
  • Prioritize preventative measures to avoid costly breaches before they occur.
  • Leverage cooperative purchasing agreements to get best-in-class pricing.


Even the most secure institutions are vulnerable to cyberattacks. This past summer, more than 900 institutions were impacted due to the compromise of a third-party system used by the National Student Clearinghouse. In just three months, the records of more than 51,000 individuals were compromised.

Building continuity into your cybersecurity plans is crucial. Steps include:

  • Developing a disaster recovery plan and outlining steps for data backup, system restoration, and communication in case of an attack.
  • Conducting drills and simulations to identify and address weaknesses in your response procedures.
  • Establishing clear communication channels so that everyone knows what to do and is on the same page during an attack.


It is not a matter of if you will be targeted, but when it will happen and how much damage it will cause. While not a substitute for strong security practices, cyber insurance can help offset the financial impact of an attack. Recommendation include:

  • Assessing your potential risks and ensuring your policy covers data breaches, business interruption, and other relevant costs.
  • Choosing a policy that covers your institution’s liability for data breaches affecting third parties.
  • Selecting an insurance company with a strong track record in responding to cyberattacks.

Cybersecurity Procurement in Higher Education

Whether you opt to outsource your cybersecurity or augment your in-house resources with higher education cybersecurity contracts for specific products, procurement teams need to work hand-in-hand with IT teams.

This requires approaching procurement as more than a financial process for a comprehensive approach to cybersecurity. Centralized purchasing ensures consistency in acquisitions and a uniform approach to security across campuses.

A centralized procurement approach can also leverage the bulk buying power of cooperative purchasing agreements, which leverage the needs of a large number of academic institutions to achieve optimal pricing and terms. Working with a purchasing cooperative such as E&I Cooperative Services, for example, colleges and universities can lower their costs and get higher education cybersecurity contracts that are tailored for academic institutions.

Balancing Budget and Security

Working collaboratively, procurement teams need to analyze which assets and infrastructure present the highest risk for their institution. Creating a risk ranking helps prioritize investments and fill the most crucial security gaps. This is especially important as most institutions are forced to make difficult choices due to rising prices and tighter budgets.

For example, prioritizing managed cyber security services in higher education for safeguarding sensitive research data, financial data, and student personal information merits a higher urgent priority status than segmenting out lower-risk portions of campus Wi-Fi access.

It is crucial for procurement teams to involve stakeholders to ensure they understand the vital importance of robust cybersecurity and the risks of cyberattacks. By doing so, they can highlight the need and ensure funding for mitigating risk.

The Benefits of Cooperative Purchasing Agreements for Higher Education Cybersecurity

Whether deciding to outsource security functions to a managed service provider or developing in-house defenses, schools can stretch limited resources further through cooperative purchasing agreements.

Cooperative higher education cybersecurity contracts aggregate large-scale buying power across the higher education sector to negotiate discounts and favorable terms with technology and service suppliers. By tapping into competitive solicited agreements instead of taking a solo procurement approach, higher ed organizations can gain pricing leverage as well as value-added benefits like specialized contract language covering their unique regulatory, data privacy, and accessibility needs.

Unlike typical generalized cooperative contracts, education-focused agreements bring specialized procurement expertise to tailor vendor RFP processes, pricing models, and contract terms specifically for higher education systems and affiliated research institutions. This purpose-built understanding helps participating schools maximize savings and acquire security solutions optimized for the distinct threat landscape and tight budget realities facing academia.

E&I Cooperative Services is the only member-owned, non-profit purchasing cooperative that focuses exclusively on education. Membership is free, and there is no obligation or minimum purchasing requirement. Schools and universities can review ready-to-use contracts for goods and services, compare prices, and opt in at their discretion. E&I Cooperative Services negotiates contracts using the aggregated buying power of its 6,000 member education institutions, helping procurement teams find optimal solutions and achieve best-in-class pricing.

Learn more about the benefits of becoming an E&I Cooperative Services member today.

Frequently Asked Questions — FAQs

What is managed security services in cybersecurity for higher education?

Managed security services provide ongoing monitoring, management, and defense of college and university cybersecurity operations backed by experts. These services alleviate the high staffing and technology costs of developing robust in-house security capabilities. Common offerings include monitoring, endpoint protection, vulnerability scanning, threat intelligence feeds, email/network filtering, and incident response.

What are the features of managed security services for higher education?

Common features of higher education-focused managed security services include 24/7 monitoring of campus network and systems by professional security analysts, customized alerting based on the organization’s policies and risk profile, managed installation of endpoint agents, regular reporting on threats and security health, dedicated advisory services on improving cyber defenses, incident response, and integration with existing on-prem infrastructure.

What is an example of a higher education managed security service?

An example of a higher education managed security service would be a third-party provider that oversees cybersecurity. Such services might augment existing IT staff, provide certain services, or overlay a school’s cybersecurity and operate a security operations center (SOC).

Learn more about the benefits of becoming an E&I Cooperative Services member today.


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