North Dakota Board of Higher Education Appoints New Leader, Addresses Cybersecurity

After unspecified parts of the North Dakota University System (NDUS) fell victim to the global 'WannaCry" malware, the higher ed board stressed the need for cybersecurity funding.

by Andrew Haffner, Grand Forks Herald / May 16, 2017 0
Shutterstock

(TNS) -- The State Board of Higher Education is set for new leadership this summer.

During its Monday meeting, the board unanimously selected Vice Chair Don Morton to serve a one-year term as chair beginning July 1. SBHE member Greg Stemen was elected to serve out a one-year term as the organization's vice chair.

Morton is replacing outgoing Chair Kathleen Neset, who has served the maximum of two consecutive terms and will step down from the role when her term ends June 30.

Also in the meeting, the board approved allowing Mayville State University to renovate a residence hall to the tune of $777,000 to fix damages caused by improper design and construction.

The work for Agassiz Hall is to be funded in part by $402,000 from auxiliary reserves and $375,000 from a mediation settlement struck between MSU and contractors involved in the project. Even with the consensus, board member Nick Hacker said he believed the board could "do a better job" in the future of holding contractors to completing work as promised.

"I would hope that we could be more diligent so we don't have to open the checkbook when a contractor fails to design a building appropriately," Hacker said.

Renovations to Agassiz Hall—one of three residences on campus—began in 2010 with the purpose of modernizing the hall to accommodate a suite and apartment floor plan, according to a request submitted to the board by MSU. As part of that series of updates, contactors installed individual bathrooms within each residential unit. The MSU request states those bathrooms were built out with improper ventilation systems which "caused moisture-related problems" which now need to be fixed through ventilation upgrades and other general construction work.

Rick Tonder, director of facilities planning for the North Dakota University System, said the situation at the hall was "essentially malfeasance," though circumstances at the time of the mediation prevented the system from pursuing that claim to its fullest extent.

The system has also recently seen wrongdoing of a more digital nature.

NDUS Chancellor Mark Hagerott, long an advocate of cybersecurity initiatives, said the system was attacked this weekend during a global hacking event. The "WannaCry" ransomware attack is believed to have swept through computer networks in more than 150 countries, shutting down hospitals and businesses along the way.

Though he didn't name specific NDUS areas which experienced cyberattacks, Hagerott said system employees worked through the weekend to address virtual threats close to home.

He credited staff for protecting the digital side of the system while stressing the need for cybersecurity funding, adding "it's not going to get any easier" to fend off future attacks.

Lisa Feldner, Hagerott's chief of staff and the system vice chancellor for information technology and research, praised the work of NDUS Core Technology Services in fending off the recent attacks. Feldner also expressed gratitude for legislative focus on cybersecurity and recent state investments into the system's defense mechanisms.

"If this were to have happened four years ago, it could have been catastrophic," she said. As it was, she said the system had "no acts of intrusion."

The State Board approved other items Monday which were timely in the wake of the global cyberattack. One policy now outlines the responsibilities of the system's campus presidents in securing their information networks and data storage.

Hagerott has advocated in the past for the establishment of a national academy devoted to cybersecurity. In the NDUS, he has overseen the growth of academic programs focused specifically on cyber security and data management.

To that effect, the board also approved Monday the creation of graduate certificate programs in cybersecurity at UND, North Dakota State University and Minot State University.

Beyond the cyber sphere, high-tech learning is now set to gain even more altitude at UND. The school now has newly minted drone research center.

The Research Institute for Autonomous Systems—a project formerly known as the Institute for Unmanned and Autonomous Research—was officially created Monday through board approval.

UND President Mark Kennedy said the university tweaked the name to avoid any potential infringement with Unmanned Applications Institute, International, a Grand Forks-based drone firm.

The new UND center is intended to pull together the various unmanned aerial systems work on campus to make a collaborative approach to research.

©2017 the Grand Forks Herald (Grand Forks, N.D.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.