Cybersecurity has become one of the most concerning issues for commercial establishments and businesses around the world – and that does not liberate the education sector in any way. Cybersecurity in education is equally important because it is now among the top five industries most hit by ransomware.
Still, according to IBM Education Ransomware Study, more than 59% of the people employed in the education sector have never had a single training on cybersecurity.
That fact is even more alarming given that more than 60% of the professionals working in education handle confidential data. How to address these challenges?
Cybersecurity In Education Sector: An Overview
The education sector deals with many critical challenges: lack of resources, staff and training shortages, and budget concerns.
Then came COVID-19, which resulted in massive upheaval and disruption in the teaching and learning methods.
The scenario required a quick transition to remote working and a re-evaluation of the traditional systems and processes that had been in place for many years. Undoubtedly, this sudden turn of events left the industry exposed to cybercrime.
Hundreds of studies and surveys have established and emphasized that employees are the weakest link in an organization’s cybersecurity chain.
Even so, IBM recently found out that 78% of educators are using conventional methods for data handling and have no knowledge of advanced cybersecurity tools and services.
Therefore, from covert data breaches to turbulent ransomware attacks, educational institutions have faced several cyberattacks, especially Post-Covid.
Education Sector – An Easy Target For Cybercriminals
With an overnight industry shift due to Covid-19, the education sector had to unlearn and reevaluate everything it knew while keeping pace with the usual logistics of academia. Simultaneously, it became an area of interest for cybercriminals because it failed to upgrade everything in such a short time.
Therefore, liberating cybercriminals to use advanced tools and tactics to take advantage of the situation. There are many other reasons why the education sector is a comparatively easy target for cybercriminals, including:
- Nearly 80% of the educators are using traditional learning platforms for online teaching
- 60% of professionals in the education sector admit using personal devices for work
- Almost 60% of educators acknowledge that they do not know how to respond to a cyberattack
Let’s review the statement “humans are the weakest link in cybersecurity” and its consequences. It substantially defines the importance of cybersecurity in education.
It worsens when you realize the academic staff does not effectively respond to a cyberattack. Consequently, due to traditional unprotected means of data storage and lack of cybersecurity awareness and training, the education sector continually expands the risk of professional and personal data leaks.
What Makes the Education Sector A Rewarding Target?
We all know about the notorious 2014 Sony Hack, but how many of us know that five colleges experienced more significant data breaches in the same year?
Unfortunately, no one knows – and that is precisely what makes the education sector a lucrative target for cybercriminals.
Let’s briefly go through the reasons why cybercriminals find data held by educational institutions worth an attack:
- Cybercriminals are always looking for financial gain. Reputational and monetary damages to students, staff, and their families always top the list.
- The education sector has data worth up to $246 per stolen record on the black market, undoubtedly making academia a desirable target for cybercriminals.
- The data held by educational institutes, whether the personal information of a student or perhaps valuable proprietary research, is always treasured by cybercriminals
- More often than not, cybercriminals intend to disrupt and adversely impact the operations and productivity of an institution.
- Educational institutions often serve as centers for research and, therefore, become a crime-attraction for carrying such valuable information.
Cybersecurity Threats In the Education Sector
Cybersecurity in education is (almost) a foreign concept, even after complete digitalization Post-Covid.
According to VMware, one in every three universities and colleges (36% educational institutions) become a victim of a successful cyberattack with every passing hour. So, what are the top five threats relating to cybersecurity in education.
Spear Phishing And BEC
Cybercriminals have gained control of multiple academic institutions using spear phishing, resulting in devastating losses. According to a Business Line story, spear-phishing tactics targeted over 1000 institutions, schools, and universities in the third quarter of 2021.
Threat actors also use BEC attacks to target education-related groups. According to Barracuda, Gmail accounts are the primary channel for initiating 86% of all BEC attacks against academic organizations.
Several institutions, schools, and universities have been targeted by violent ransomware assaults, with disastrous results. According to the FBI, schools have become the most common ransomware attack targets.
Quite recently, in March 2021, the UK-based Harris Federation suffered from a ransomware attack resulting in more than 37000 students being unable to access their coursework.
DDoS, also known as Distributed Denial of Service attacks, are widespread in the education industry. These attacks provide a simple approach for cybercriminals to interrupt operations, especially if the target organization’s network is not well-protected.
For example, the University of Northampton, in March 2021, fell victim to a DDoS attack which led to server and system disruption institution-wide.
A lack of awareness is a significant factor in the success of any cyberattack. It might be due to staff or students who aren’t adequately trained in basic cyber hygiene or inadvertently damaging the network. Unfortunately, more than 60% of academic professionals have no awareness whatsoever when it comes to cyberspace.
Data breaches in the education industry have long been prevalent since academic institutions contain a large stockpile of important information, including personal and professional records of both employees and students.
For example, Stanford Graduate School of Business recently suffered a data breach resulting in 14TB of a data leak.
Not only that, data breaches expose personal data from faculty and students, with catastrophic results such as this (see tweet next).
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How To Defend Against These Cyberthreats
Cybersecurity in education is crucial for several reasons, the most important of which is to protect students’ safety and privacy.
So, here are some practical actions educational institutions may take to safeguard an educational institution from cyber threats and other digital dangers.
Start With the Biggest Threat: Phishing
Everyone, from faculty to students, should be able to identify and report phishing emails.
Deploying phishing simulations and understanding which users are more prone to engage with these is the safest and quickest way to close the door on attackers and avoid ransomware attacks and catastrophic losses.
Enforce Best Cybersecurity Practices
To provide an extra layer of protection to an academic organization’s cybersecurity system, enable and enforce best cybersecurity practices such as strong passwords, keeping software and hardware patched and updated,
Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA), and other appropriate cybersecurity best practices across all endpoints and business networks.
Build Cyber Culture
Organizations need to make sure their staff understands the implications of not following the procedures and their role in keeping the organization safe.
Building strong cyberculture, where good habits make for a strong line of defense, is mandatory.
Incident Planning And Response Training
Educational institutions might also invest in cyber event planning and response policies and training for their IT employees.
It assists the company in developing its own effective cyber incident response strategies, safeguarding the institution from the damage cyberattacks can cause.
Cybersecurity Awareness And Training
Academic organizations must ensure that everyone – students, instructors, and employees – understands how to recognize social engineering attacks and deal with them.
All personnel should be trained in cybersecurity fundamentals to raise awareness of various cyber threats and deal with them. It is critical for improving the human security layer, which can only be accomplished via education and training.
The importance of cybersecurity in education is a thought-provoking concern, given that schooling has made it to the top five most profitable and easy targets for cybercriminals.
Unfortunately, educational institutions have always been unable to protect themselves against cyberattacks, whether due to a lack of resources and money or a lack of solid security requirements.
Nonetheless, with a host of cybersecurity concerns hounding the education business, now is the time for educational institutions to take the required precautions and remain ahead of threats.
Human error, however, plays a substantial part in each of these cybersecurity risks. The good news is that by improving general cybersecurity training and knowledge of attacker motivations and techniques, educational institutions may better protect themselves against cyberattacks.