Remote learning and remote teaching are indispensable concepts in higher education around the world. Since the shift to remote working and online learning, the sector is facing more and more cybersecurity challenges. Where before the biggest part of school operations stayed in the school’s environment, there is now an increased use of technology in a remote environment. That means that there are also more potentially vulnerable access points for attackers. But how can you let staff and students securely access a desktop or application without putting the school network at risk?
IT admins of universities and colleges are thus looking for secure remote access solutions in education, as security is one of the primary worries in an increasingly digital world. We’re talking about enormous user groups (dozens of teachers and often thousands of students) that use many different devices to access applications and files with a lot of personal and sensitive data.
In this blog, we will be looking at the top 4 remote access solutions used in education. Those are Teamviewer, VPN, RDP and secure unified workspaces. Needless to say, all these solutions are valid options to enable remote access in education – but they’re not always equally secure. Nevertheless, it’s important to keep the specific problems you want to solve in mind. Define how you want to enable remote access, and what remote access solution fits your query. That way, it will be clear that some solutions offer more advantages, often in terms of security, than others.
Why have remote access for staff and students?
In their courses, students often have to use very class-specific applications and software, which are installed on computers in university PC rooms. In times where (partially) remote learning is the norm rather than the exception, it is usually not possible to offer this software personally to students, as it is very expensive for the university and/or cannot be installed on any hardware. A way to solve this, could then be to give students remote access to the school computers via their own device (Chromebook, tablet, …) . Depending on what type of access your provide for these forms or remote learning, they can easily access the software – even if it’s legacy software (that needs to be installed on the device) from outside the university or college.
Another often-heard use-case is that of network-restricted third-party services. Educational institutions often have memberships for services like JSTOR that they offer to their students and academic personnel. Often, access to those services is limited to the network of the university or college. If a researcher or student can get access to these services from anywhere, this would greatly benefit the institution’s (and their personal) academic prowess.
However, enabling remote access is not only a necessity for the students. There are also many administrative staff members working in universities and colleges who would like the option of working remotely. For example, they may need access to personnel files or work with accounting applications from home. For those people, universities and colleges should be looking for a secure and simple solution, because this administrative staff often works with personal data of staff and students. There must be absolutely no risk of data loss, so security is very important. Furthermore, the IT team should not be burdened with the fact that these employees want to work at home, so a school should look for a simple solution that requires few support (tickets). Of course, this is also the case for teachers who want to be able to access files and applications they need for lessons remotely.
Remote access solutions in education in 2022
There are many remote access solutions for education on the market. However, some of them are complex to use or to manage, and others pose a risk to the educational organization’s critical cybersecurity. Let’s take a look at the top 4 remote access solutions in education in 2022:
TeamViewer is a remote control computer software, that allows you to maintain computers and other devices. In an educational context it is sometimes used by IT teams to give remote support to students or teachers when one of those parties is not present at school. With the software, users can share their screens, application window and even an entire remote desktop.
This solution is especially useful to share a remote desktop view between users to collaborate or support. However, it is a less ideal software for teachers and students to connect with lab computers in the school.
Disadvantages of TeamViewer
Virtual Private Networks (VPNs)
All around the world universities and colleges are letting students access on-campus network resources from their own device by using a virtual private network (VPN). Once students have tunneled access, they can use services that are exclusively available to devices on the network. Examples of that are using the institutions’ intranet applications, or being recognized as a logged in user for services such as JSTOR.
VPN has been around for a long time, and stems from an age where cybersecurity concerns were different. They come with multiple security, user experience and management flaws. Take precautions: unprotected VPN access to your network is a serious threat to your organization.
Disadvantages of VPNs
Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP)
Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) is being leveraged today by many universities to let users access clients and servers remotely. It allows users to control their remote Windows machine as if they were working on it locally. Most technologies that enable remote access into Microsoft Windows-based clients and servers rely on this foundation.
However, using RDP without any further security measurements (naked) can be disastrous for school networks when one of the vulnerable open access points is being hacked.
Disadvantages of RDP
Secure unified workspaces
Working with a unified workspace in the education sector means that you make all server-based applications, remote desktops and files available in one workspace. Additionaly, it gives students and staff the possibility to securely take over lab or class room computers from a distance. This way, they can work remotely, anywhere, and any time on a remote device – all they need is a browser. An example of such a unified workspace for remote access is Awingu.