Cybersecurity has been dominating headlines, but when we think about digital security, we often neglect certain industries where this issue can be a problem. The education sector is one such industry. Now, thanks to the rapid rise in remote and virtual classrooms, online security is becoming a much bigger concern than it once was for many schools and learning institutions.
An increased risk of ransomware
Ransomware attacks are common due to the lack of protection that many educational organizations have in place. And as their reliance on technology continues to grow, institutions are becoming increasingly susceptible to attacks.
During the COVID-19 outbreak of 2020, many schools and universities were forced to switch to virtual classrooms quickly, without time to adequately set up a security strategy. Institutions saw a rise in phishing emails and compromised email accounts as well as unauthorized access to databases and sensitive information. But going forward, education institutions need to prioritize their security strategy in order to prevent further attacks and minimize the risk of data breaches.
Greater range of devices
In the education sector, there’s an increasing number of devices being used, and by more students than ever before. But this increases the number of endpoints that can be a potential attack surface for criminals. Whether it’s staff bringing in tablets and laptops, or students bringing in their own devices to use for research or note taking, this BYOD environment can be hard to secure.
As the cybersecurity experts at Redscan point out, “Many organizations now have Bring Your Own Device policies, but unsecured devices present a variety of security risks. Organizations should ensure office networks are segregated, with dedicated WiFi networks for personal devices, and all employee devices should have endpoint security software installed.”
Storage of valuable data
Schools and universities are a treasure trove of personal information, from names and addresses of students to finance details. In more remote areas, school systems are a huge HR resource as they’re often the largest employer. They also have access to intellectual property and research that can be of value.
To keep this valuable data safe, the education sector needs to prioritize how it secures sensitive or proprietary information and protects it against malicious activity. Strong passwords, multi-factor authentication, and updating software regularly can all help to protect data from landing in the wrong hands.
Preparing for future attacks
It’s not only data for immediate use that the education sector needs to protect, but the risk of information being used in the future. One of the reasons that hackers target schools is that they want to obtain personal information belonging to children. The reason is that they hold on to the information and build plans for identity theft in years to come, meaning it could be five to ten years before the victims realize that there’s something wrong.
Children’s data can be collected in several ways, from interacting with a smart device to educational apps or social media connections, so being aware of how data is collected and stored is essential in the fight against malicious cyber activity. But it’s also important that staff and students alike exercise caution when using sites or submitting personal information, and that any data is stored securely to prevent theft, with anti-ransomware software in place for added protection.
The threat of shadow IT
Shadow IT encompasses a host of tech-related activities and purchases, from hardware and off-the-shelf software to cloud services, that the IT department aren’t aware of or haven’t verified and checked. Shadow IT is a challenge for many internal IT departments, including those in the education sector. This is because teachers and school administrators are keen to embrace new technology to improve the learning experience of their students. But without the knowledge of the vulnerabilities of these tools and devices, it could put the institution as a whole at risk.
Managing a school environment is a world apart from running a business, but when it comes to online security, there are many similarities. Institutions within this sector need to place an emphasis on how they secure data from unauthorized access, to maintain their reputation and protect staff and students.
The lack of resources that school environments often have, primarily due to a lack of budget, can leave institutions vulnerable to cyber attacks, along with the culture of students and staff bringing their own devices from home and an absence of any strict usage policies in place. With this in mind, it’s important to prioritize systems and strategies that reduce the risk of attacks.
Note: This blog article was written by a guest contributor for the purpose of offering a wider variety of content for our readers. The opinions expressed in this guest author article are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect those of GlobalSign.