Ontario’s Cybersecurity Higher Education Consortium: Shared Cybersecurity and Collaboration

It is estimated that at least eighty per cent of Canadians were affected by data breaches in 2019. That means that more than 28 million Canadians were impacted. This is alarming information that concerns many of us, including myself.  

Canadian higher education institutions have also become more of a target in recent years. Many were victims of ransomware attacks, with valuable data held hostage, which required large amounts of time and money to rectify and some have been impacted by breaches. Last June, to help the higher education institutions of Ontario improve their security posture, ORION created the Ontario Cybersecurity Higher Education Consortium (ON-CHEC) together with the consortium it supports.

Meeting with some of the members of Ontario’s Cybersecurity Higher Education Consortium at ORION ( Left – Right, Rick Daoust, CIO at Cambrian College, Luc Roy, CIO at Laurentian University, and John Levay, CTO at Niagara College and me).

ON-CHEC grew out of our two-year pilot program known as the Shared CISO, a program I was a part of, which bought together eight higher education institutions to collaborate on developing a common framework and approach on countering cybersecurity threats and challenges. The program was successful and gathered the attention of the community, and we learned a lot from working with this group. We brought the ideas and lessons learned from this program to a much larger audience with ON-CHEC, and since the launch of the program we have managed to onboard 29 member institutions, including 14 universities and 15 colleges.

Last December, I spoke at the Higher Education Summit in Toronto where I talked about the importance of the ON-CHEC program ( Left – Right, Daniel Michaluk , Partner at Hicks Morley, Glenn Vollebregt, President at St.Lawrence College ).

I’ve spoken about ON-CHEC and its importance many times now at conferences and events in Canada and across the globe.  In recognition of the great work we have done with the higher education community in Ontario, I was awarded the Presidential award by EC-Council in October 2019 at the Global CISO Forum.

Each time I’ve spoken about this program brings new interested faces asking me about the success and services of the consortium. ON-CHEC brings shared services to its members, such as:

  • Monthly digests from the ON-CHEC cybersecurity expert team, including updates on upcoming events, cybersecurity news and training workshops. We want to make sure you are updated on the cybersecurity issues that might affect you, and ON-CHEC offers their take on these issues and possible steps that you and your organization can take to be prepared
  • A cybersecurity webinar series presented to you by some of the best cybersecurity professionals in the field on important topics and skills that you can start using right away in your organization. These webinars are curated through feedback from the consortium and we work to find you presenters who can provide the information you want
  • Access to security advisors (such as myself) who can offer you one-on-one confidential support during times of critical importance. We want to be there for you in your times of cybersecurity need.
  • Guidance on security strategy and program management

In addition to these services, we issue security advisories highlighting risk and threats that may affect ON-CHEC members and higher education in general.

The response to ON-CHEC has been great. I’ve greatly enjoyed connecting and working with the higher education institutions of Ontario. Our members have enjoyed joining the consortium as well and some members have shared their thoughts about the program with us.

Amir Saleem- Manager of Cyber Security and Compliance at Centennial College

Amir Saleem  Manager of Cyber Security and Compliance at Centennial College: “Centennial College would like to thank ON-CHEC for their continuous, high-value service to the college community. We are regularly delighted with the critical advice we need to be successful in our cybersecurity roadmap and operations. From the yearly self-assessment, regular webinars and oneonone sessions, we can count on Farooq and the ON-CHEC team to give us their best advice.” 

Colin Couchman – Director of 
Information Technology at Western University: “The ON-CHEC program has allowed Western University to benchmark our institution’s state of cybersecurity against similar postures across Ontario’s higher education sector. Through ON-CHEC’s programs, we have been able to both share and obtain best practices, guidelines and strategies related to cybersecurity in a manner that better ensures our own preparedness. Over the course of our engagement with ON-CHEC, we have received direct support when it has been needed, as well as being able to obtain expert consultation from an overall strategic perspective. ON-CHEC is becoming a valuable resource in achieving our cybersecurity objectives at Western University.”

David Hogan – IT Security Officer at Niagara College: “The ON-CHEC program’s security assessment helped us identify weak areas in our overall security posturewhich allowed us to develop immediate and long-term plans to make improvements. More importantly, the collaboration with other institutions and through direct one-on-one support provided a forum to discuss common issues and concerns in implementing strategies appropriate to the higher education environment. We are happy to have the consortium as a resource in today’s complex cybersecurity landscape.”  

Tariq Al-idrissi – Associate Vice President of IT at Trent University: “The ON-CHEC program has been extremely beneficial for us. It has allowed us to better assess the current state of our cybersecurity systems and provide us with a benchmark of where we stand in terms of our preparedness. We’ve also been grateful for the one-on-one support in helping develop strategies to respond to possible external threats.” 

I hope you find yourself intrigued by the consortium and that you want to learn more about ON-CHEC and how it can help your organization strengthen its cybersecurity posture. If you are interested in joining, contact our account representatives to discuss membership rates at 4165079860 or