Alberta higher education looks to national cybersecurity opportunities as SecureIT wraps up

The AB SecureIT project — a collaborative effort between Alberta’s 26 publicly funded post-secondary institutions and Cybera, the province’s research and education network organization — has successfully concluded. Launched in 2020 with funding from the Government of Alberta, the initiative brought together higher education institutions in the province to strategize ways to share information and combat cybersecurity threats.

The cornerstone of this project was a benchmarking exercise to coordinate data, and identify common threats and goals to work towards. Each institution undertook a deep-dive evaluation of their infrastructure to look for issues such as botnet infections and out-of-date systems, as well as determine their overall security rating.

Representatives from the higher education organizations also worked together to create a common language and category system for their cybersecurity systems, and developed a practice of routinely sharing sensitive event and incident information.

A positive user experience

“The SecureIT project has once again proved that Alberta’s post-secondary institutions collaborate very effectively on areas of common interest. Cybersecurity is critical to mitigating risks to institutional assets and the privacy of our students, academics, and staff. The funding from the Government of Alberta, combined with the oversight of Cybera and the collective leadership of sector IT leaders, has enabled a number of significant advances to improve the sector’s security posture: increased threat intelligence sharing, provincial benchmarking, reduced cost of access to security technology and services, and providing improved opportunities for workforce and talent development. 

Perhaps most importantly, it has enhanced our ability to work together to jointly develop initiatives that reduce the vulnerability of Alberta’s higher education institutions.”
Brian Stewart, Service Excellence Transformation Program Director, University of Alberta

“The SecureIT program has provided a significant benefit to our organization. Cybersecurity threats are affecting Alberta post-secondary institutions at a time when our financial resources to address these evolving threats are limited. The support from the Government of Alberta, with Cybera’s stewardship of this program, has enabled several initiatives to move forward that would have otherwise been difficult for institutions — especially small to mid-sized ones — to do on their own. The improved collaboration on threats and mitigations between our cyber professionals will be an ongoing benefit of the program, for years to come.

The program has created a multiplier effect, showing that investments in collaborative initiatives can provide real benefits across multiple institutions.”
— Doug Doran, CIO, Red Deer Polytechnic

Inspiring a national initiative

The successful demonstration of this collaborative effort has inspired a cross-Canada assessment initiative that will benefit hundreds of additional institutions. Alberta post-secondaries will soon be able to share their learnings with colleagues across the country, strengthening the entire ecosystem.

“It has been rewarding to see Alberta’s post-secondary institutions come together to collaborate and share knowledge to such a degree.

Creating a safe environment for students to develop their skills and earn a high-quality education, while protecting our vital research, is a top priority for us all. We look forward to continuing to work together to strengthen, and secure, Alberta’s learning and innovation infrastructure.”

— Demetrios Nicolaides, Alberta Minister of Advanced Education

Having completed the initial operations assessment stage, Alberta’s institutions are now able to focus on the remaining gaps and weaknesses they have identified through this process.

“The greatest accomplishment from the AB SecureIT initiative has been the community of trust it created among post-secondary institutions, who are now actively working together to share information and guidance on navigating security threats,” says Barb Carra, president and CEO of Cybera. “Our work doesn’t stop here! Cybera will continue to deepen the cybersecurity services we offer for the education sectors, and meet regularly with the AB SecureIT working committees to identify new cybersecurity concerns, and workshop solutions.”

For more information on this and other Cybera cybersecurity initiatives, contact security@cybera.ca.

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