The Role of Cybersecurity In The Education Sector

03 February 2022

The Role of Cybersecurity in The Education Sector

The digitalisation of the educational system has created a whole new specialisation for cybercriminals looking to exploit the vulnerabilities in the education sector. The majority of attacks include but are not limited to cyberstalking, malware attacks, and data theft. Furthermore, with the upsurge of distant learning and virtual classrooms, cybersecurity is a critical threat for educational institutions and students alike.

Educational institutions are a major target for global cyber criminals. Threat actors, whether internal or external, are exploiting students, employees, educators, parents, and admins. At Askaris, we believe that in 2022, the education sector needs to create sound cyber awareness and create an environment that encourages cyber resilience and learning from the leaders in education, all the way down to the students and parents. It’s vital that the education sector champion the changes needed to secure their organisation and protect their users.

According to many cybersecurity experts, the education sector is the most defenceless against cyber attacks, compared to all other sectors. For example, did you know that the educational sector accounted for 63 percent of all disclosed encounters in 2021? It is no secret that cybercriminals favour the education sector as an easy target. Ransomware attacks and hacking have occurred at several educational institutions across the world due to the increase in educational focused black hat hackers. Therefore, Askaris believe that cybersecurity is critical for safeguarding the sensitive information of our proud educational institutions. 

Askaris’ cyber security solutions provide advanced, next generation classified threat detection and incident response services to protect your organisation against emerging cyber threats. While schools may have tight budgets and overstretched IT staff, we have listed the important initiatives to assist schools in strengthening their cybersecurity stance. Our endpoint protection, data loss, and network security solutions offer the education sector the full cyber-service stack and industry leading cyber defences for you school, college, and/or university.  

All organisations need some type of cyber protection, but we also know that the education sector differs in scope, reputation, and overall objective in comparison to a global corporation. As a result, the intentions of cybercriminals change with each hack. For example, cybercriminals who aim at exploiting world-renowned universities may not necessarily attack local schools in the first instance, however this does not mean that local schools should not have adequate cyber protection in place.

Why is the education sector such a lucrative target for cybercriminals? We believe that the following factors contribute:

Financial Gain:

Most cybercriminals are motivated primarily by money, hoping that the institution they’ve breached, pays a ransome for their data. Malicious hackers can not only sell school, college, or university data, but they can also keep sensitive data hostage for ransom, however, very rarely do they simply give your data back.

We know that not all organisations have funds to pay for a ransome, especially those in the public sector, however, the rewards are well worth it for the cyber criminals to obtain their data anyway, which can be worth millions of dollars on the black market and dark web. This coupled with weak security and the motivation for financial gains, makes the education sector a prime target for cyber-attacks.

Private institutions such as universities/colleges, often manage many student fees, are a prominent target for hackers in 2022. Nowadays, it is common for pupils or parents to pay fees online, often transferring substantial amounts of money to cover an entire term or year of school fees. Without adequate safety or planning in educational institutions, this also creates another vulnerability for cybercriminals to exploit.

Technological Gateways:

Academic institutions use various devices for teaching, data storage, and other purposes. In addition, students bring their personal laptops and use their smartphones on campus. This exposure multiplies the number of possibilities for attackers, and one example of this could be the use of public Wi-Fi.

It’s fair to say that most students have limited cybersecurity knowledge despite recognising how to navigate most devices. The majority of the technology used in schools, colleges and universities are iPads, laptops, and desktop computers, which is why cybercriminals will often target students as a means to gain entry into an institution's network.

This is one of the reasons why cyber awareness training is not only limited to the private sector but should be utilised in a public sector environment as well. Askaris recommend Phishing Training Awareness and Breach and Attack Simulation as a start, which can be a cost-effective way of protecting your users.

An Abundance of Confidential and Research Data:

The espionage threat primarily affects research institutions, as cybercriminals can acquire military or other critical data access. In addition, prestigious universities own intellectual and historical assets. Therefore, they are always more vulnerable to cyber threats than public schools. Because of this, it’s not just the IT professionals that require continuous training and development in cyber security, but all users benefit from adequate cyber awareness training, to combat such threats against their organisations.

Universities/Colleges must be adequately protected, as it is believed that cybercriminals have formerly threatened science, engineering, and clinical research at many UK universities.

Sensitive Data:

We know that universities and colleges are notable excellent sources of personal information. Their devices contain the financial information of every student and faculty member based on names and addresses. As a result, higher education institutions serve as PII roots for cybercriminals to invade. Students' healthcare information, in addition to their social security numbers, financial data and passport information, could all be at risk. This sort of information can be rewarding to cybercriminals for varied reasons, whether they plan to sell it or use it as a bargaining chip to demand a ransome.

Increasing Reliance on Technology:

Another latest feature is the reliance on technology due to the relentless COVID pandemic. The attack space has expanded sharply as more people use digital platforms for presenting and participating in classes.

Furthermore, because schools and universities began utilising more and more technology and digital resources during lockdown, pupils, educators, and administrations are more prone to cyberattacks than ever before.

Effective Protective Measures:

With a sharp growth of cybersecurity threats blackmailing the education sector, it's probably time for these organisations to take those safety measures and stay ahead of the growing security risks facing their organisation. The education sector can take several steps to boost its cybersecurity stance and prevent major attacks happening to them. Some are inexpensive, some are simple, and some require cyber security consultancy.

So, below are some practical steps you can take to protect your educational institution from cyber attacks.

  • The teachers and students should be notified of the potentially disastrous consequences of a data leak. Good practice is to also educate and promote strong password policies for all users.

  • Installing endpoint and email protection to prevent malware and phishing is a cost to the school, college, or university, but worth every penny.

  • A cybersecurity professional can examine the internal network and make changes to their cyber policies and systems. As a result, general cybersecurity will improve, and records of the organisation will be secured from future cyber attacks.

  • Simulated cyber-attacks during regular school hours. When students and teachers fix and respond to emergencies, they direct and improve their training. Phishing awareness training is also great to couple with breach and attack simulation to test internal and external cyber threat posture and defence.

  • Institutes can improve their security by funding security awareness programs for students and employees. Enrolling in cyber security courses is now remarkably budget-friendly and some are even free of charge. Askaris can provide custom phishing awareness and training for all your users.  

  • Identity Access Management (IAM) is a measure that forbids unapproved network access to unauthorised parties.

We know that academic institutions are hubs of the future for both students and the faculty, and that is why cybersecurity for the education sector is paramount. All institutions must look to evaluate their security posture against all the global cyber-attacks.

At Askaris we have an excellent track record of assisting our clients with securing their organisations against some of the biggest cyber-attacks globally. With our best-in-class cyber security technical team, 3 decades of advanced knowledge, and our valuable cyber security services, we can help you secure your organisation.

Click here to get in contact with us to discuss your requirements.

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