As hubs of research, academia and culture, colleges have been targets of hackers on more than one occasion in the past few years. In 2014, one university reported a data breach that exposed the personally identifiable information of hundreds of thousands of students and staff, dating back to 1998. This information was also tied to the institution’s ID card system.

While it may not be realistic for colleges to preempt every attack vector that could lead to a breach, it is possible to foster stronger cybersecurity through the implementation of more secure access cards, which help guard against threats in the physical world. Access cards can be printed with high-quality designs to ensure their integrity, and also integrated with IT systems so that their data is always up-to-date.

Protect Students, Faculty and Staff with Stronger ID Cards

Colleges and universities, as well as many primary and secondary schools, have issued IDs and access cards to their students, faculty and staff for decades. In recent years, however, the functionality of these cards has greatly expanded. A card might now be used for anything from checking out a book at the campus library to purchasing a meal at a dining hall. For example, several years ago, Mount Mercy University began charging students for any pages they printed above a set limit, by using their ID cards. Paper use declined by around 40 percent after this change.

However, the expansion of these cards’ capabilities comes with some new risks:

  • For starters, a stolen card could grant an unauthorized person vast privileges for accessing school services and getting into restricted areas such as dormitories and labs.
  • There is the additional issue of maintaining a robust, integrated ID card system as university budgets, especially for public schools, come under pressure from cost-cutting state legislatures.
  • Finally, the ideal is to unify all essential functions on a single up-to-date card, but the reality is often that they are divided among disconnected card systems that are difficult to maintain and reconcile.

ID card systems themselves have also become magnets for attacks. The university breach mentioned earlier was of a database for its ID cards, demonstrating the value of the data – names, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, etc. – contained in them. Ultimately, around 300,000 records were breached in that incident.

What is the best way to protect the sensitive, personally identifiable information on ID cards while ensuring the integrity of the university-wide access system? Any solution should start with a more secure physical card.

Card design and printing

Quality design and printing are the building blocks of a secure ID card. Important features may include signature capture, DSLR camera support (for ID photos), magnetic stripes, barcodes and QR codes. Together, these features enable a trusted identity that can be verified with a glance if necessary. The information and imagery on the card are consistent with university branding and students’ records.

Seamless integration with IT systems

The card itself is one part of a larger security apparatus. It may require connections to various databases (Microsoft Access, Oracle, etc.), video surveillance systems and human resources portals.

Such integration is essential for producing ID cards with accurate information. The Spring Lake Park School District in St. Paul, Minn., realized this when it overhauled its ID system several years ago using solutions from Entrust and IdentiSys. The school district needed to connect the new card production process to its Infinite Campus student information platform.

It ultimately was able to pull all essential student data – including name, grade level and personal identification number – from Infinite Campus and relay it to a Entrust® CD800 card printer. An ID card could then be printed with these details along with the most recent photo of the student contained in the database.

Steve Halvorson, the district technology coordinator for Spring Lake Park Schools when the new system was implemented, described the setup from Entrust and IdentiSys as “a highly reliable hardware and software badge solution that is integrated with our staff and student information system, building card access programs and video security system.”  The school district saw increased awareness and security in its buildings following the ID card upgrade.

Guarding Against Threats in the Physical World

Schools are right to be conscious of physical security matters, which sometimes get overlooked as more attention and resources are diverted instead to issues such as malware infections and distributed denial-of-service attacks. Building access must be properly managed, and secure ID cards are integral to this process.

Combined with tight integration with databases and other security systems, ID cards promote safety. Having a way to easily assign and verify identities on campus will go a long way toward mitigating many of the security challenges currently facing education.