Can Blockchain Secure Sensitive Research Data in University Settings?
Universities can do more to secure the sharing of important documents and data
Universities have long been seen as bastions of learning and research, but in today's world, they're also a prime target for hackers. Universities house sensitive data about students' and professors' research, and those who have access to this information can use it for personal gain or even profit. In addition to the threat posed by hackers attempting to steal such information, universities are also at risk of having their IT systems compromised by malicious software or malware that could lead to security breaches.
Securely sharing and collaborating on important data is crucial for universities.
In a university, the documents and data you share with other people are absolutely essential to your work. Universities have many different stakeholders, including students, professors, industry partners, governments, hospitals, and patients. In addition to protecting their intellectual property (IP), universities must ensure that they are complying with regulations such as FERPA and GDPR.
To protect their IP and comply with these regulations, universities should explore the use of blockchain technology. Web3 techniques allow for the encryption and secure storage of data as well as the ability to restrict access to this data to only authorized users and track all access to it. Blockchain also allows for easy collaboration among multiple parties while keeping everyone’s identity private; this is especially important when working with sensitive client data like medical or student records stored in an academic database.
University research centers, students, professors, industry partners, and governments are targets
The problem is that universities themselves have become targets.
A recent survey of academic and private sector leaders found that research centers, students, professors, industry partners, and governments are all targets of intellectual property theft. The information they hold can be used by malicious actors to gain an edge over others in the marketplace or in conjunction with criminal activities — all without the knowledge of the data owner.
University research centers are often targets of intellectual property theft and a major cause of concern for security officials.
A university is one of the most likely places you will find an intellectual property thief lurking about. One reason for this is that many universities have entire departments dedicated to research and development (R&D). These R&D departments are often tasked with developing new products and processes over time, which would be useful if they were managed properly by the university itself. In many cases, however, these R&D departments do not necessarily fall under the same umbrella as other academic programs within a university structure such as teaching or nursing degrees; therefore, monitoring what happens within them can be difficult without proper oversight from higher-ranking officials at each institution.
As a result, university research centers are often targets of intellectual property theft and a major cause of concern for security officials. According to Susan D'Agostino, a technology and innovation reporter at Inside Higher ED, higher education institutions have experienced a surge in ransomware attacks. And these attacks tend to be successful with almost three-quarters of them resulting in some form of payment to cybercriminals. They also tend to have the slowest recovery times and higher remediation costs. Institutions with more limited resources for defenses are likely to be the most vulnerable and cybersecurity insurance only transfers the financial risk but does not address the vulnerabilities that led to these events.
Universities are not well-positioned to adopt blockchain and Web3 technologies
It does not help that many higher education IT departments are also understaffed and under-resourced relying more and more on outsourced services and consultants while retaining responsibilities for support services such as help desk assistance, server maintenance, updates, and backups.
Blockchain is a decentralized network allowing users to share information without the need for centralized authorities. It provides a secure way for multiple parties with shared interests (such as researchers, professors, students, industry, and government) to work together efficiently without having their activities tracked or their data compromised.
The use of blockchains to secure data is becoming more prevalent, as well as using web3 to access that data. But, few universities have begun to explore these technologies and they are lagging behind in understanding how to apply these technologies to their operational context and the benefit of their students, professors, and broader ecosystem partners.
Universities should consider what Web3 can offer
While it is still early days for these technologies, universities should consider what Web3 can offer them.
Universities would be able to securely store their data and track its sharing on the blockchain with no risk of loss or alteration.
The decentralized nature of blockchains means that information cannot be altered by any one individual or group, meaning that it is less likely to be tampered with across multiple institutions or research participants (and therefore more secure).
The use of blockchain introduces new capabilities such as verifiable credentials, digital wallets, smart contracts, and tokenomics - opening the door to the introduction of other revenue-generating streams for the education sector beyond operational efficiencies.
It's imperative that universities take steps to protect themselves against threats to their sensitive data
Universities must ensure the privacy of students, faculty members, and staff; protect research initiatives; ensure intellectual property protection; as well as safeguard confidential information it holds. They should be taking steps to secure their systems and operations and begin to understand how to leverage blockchain and web3 technologies to address some of these vulnerabilities.
At myLaminin, we’re proud to be working with several leading universities to do just
 Susan D'Agostino, 2021, 'Ransomware Attacks Against Higher Ed Increase', www.insidehighered.com, July 22, 2022, accessed November 22, 2022, https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2022/07/22/ransomware-attacks-against-higher-ed-increase.