The digitization of the education system has led to some severe issues like cyberbullying, malware attacks, and hacking. Also, with the steep increase in remote learning and virtual classrooms, cybersecurity is a prominent area of concern for educational institutes and students alike.
Cybersecurity experts say that the education sector is most vulnerable to cyber threats. To illustrate, 63% of the total reported encounters were from educational institutes. It is evident that the sector of schooling is a favorite target among cybercriminals. Numerous institutes have suffered data breaches and hacking at the hands of black hat hackers. Hence, cybersecurity is crucial for protecting the information that can damage the organization.
Recent cyberattacks targeting the education sector
Schools and colleges are a goldmine of personal information. To add, cyber protection is rarely the same that private enterprises use. Therefore, hackers aim for their networks to exploit sensitive budgets. Here are a few examples:
- Cyberattack on the Division of Structural Biology at Oxford University in February 2021: The institute was involved in COVID-related research when hackers posted access details of their systems online.
- Miami Dade County Public School cyberattacks of 2020: A teen hacker employed a series of DDoS attacks on the school, which caused their systems to crash.
The above instances prove that cyber protection is the need of the hour. If IT experts of educational institutes take up cyber security training online, the number of threats might reduce.
Why are educational centers prone to cyberattacks?
Educational institutes vary in stature, size, and purpose. Accordingly, the motives of cybercriminals also change with every hack. For instance, the same hackers who attack world-renowned Universities may not threaten local schools. Hence, organizations hire cyber security analysts to evaluate their risks and develop response strategies.
But why is the education sector such a rewarding target for hackers? The reasons are:
Financial gain and money-making opportunities
Money is the primary motive for most hackers. Not only can cybercriminals sell a college’s data, but they can also hold sensitive information captive for ransom. Although not all institutes have bottomless pockets, the returns are worth it if the crooks get hold of their data. Moreover, educational records are worth $265 on the black market. Such financial gains are more than enough for attackers to target colleges.
A comprehensive array of devices
Academic institutes utilize a wide range of devices for teaching, storing data, and other purposes. Furthermore, students carry their own mobile devices for researching and taking notes. This increases the number of potential loose ends for attackers.
Despite knowing how to operate devices, students lack the knowledge of cybersecurity. Most of their cellular devices lack network security and the necessary protection mechanisms. If they connect to the institution’s Wi-Fi, they’re opening doors for hackers to breach the building’s network.
Hence, students and teachers should learn about cybercrimes and their prevention. They can easily do so by acquiring cyber security certifications online. In addition to the school’s protection, their home devices would also be secure.
Storage of sensitive data and Personally Identifiable Information (PII)
Universities and schools are cornucopias of personal attributes. From names and addresses, their computers store the financial details of every student and staff member. Hence, higher institutes act as trunks of PII for hackers to breach. In addition to students’ social security numbers and passport particulars, their healthcare data is also at risk. Hence, an organization should recruit a cybersecurity expert to review its cyber protection.
Espionage and theft of confidential research
Mainly research institutions face the threat of espionage as hackers can gain access to military or other valuable data. Also, prominent universities hold intellectual and historical property. Therefore, they’re always more prone to cyberattacks than district schools. For this reason, IT people require cyber security training online or tools to counter such invasions.
How do cybercriminals act
Hackers employ numerous methods to breach academic institutions, for example:
- Ransomware – FBI says that schools are the common target of ransomware attacks. The consequences of such breaches are devastating for students, the staff, and their teaching techniques.
- Phishing attacks – As per the articles by Business Line, more than 1000 colleges and universities were the victims of spear-phishing attacks.
- DDoS attacks – Perhaps the most common type of attack in the education sector, DDoS can cause widespread disruption to the institute’s network. Additionally, DDoS are easy to carry out, and hence amateurs can break into a network if it is not secure enough. Also, attackers can use the wrongfully collected data as a tool to extort money.
Possible prevention methods
Academic institutions must take appropriate precautions for students’ security despite limited resources. Some effective measures are:
- Multi-factor authentication – Schools should enable MFA to all the possible endpoints of a network. It will add an extra layer of security to the institution’s framework.
- Installing protection against DDoS, malware, and phishing attacks – A one-time investment that is beneficial in the long run. A cybersecurity expert can check the networks and modify the systems. Consequently, the overall cyber resilience will increase, and the data will be safe from cyber threats.
- Identity Access Management system – An IAM prevents unauthorized access to a network. Hence, it will keep intruders at bay.
- Two-step authentication and strong passwords – The staff and students should be informed about the devastating effects of a data breach. This way, they will encrypt their devices with strong passwords. Moreover, schools should add another level of authentication, like a secret answer or puzzle, to their computers.
- Cyber security training online – Institutes can increase their security by investing in cybersecurity training for students and staff. It is now highly affordable to enroll in cyber security analyst certification courses. Not only would students learn cybersecurity, but institutes can also design their response plans.
Educational institutes are centers of opportunities for students and staff. However, they are more vulnerable to cyber attacks than private companies with abundant resources. If hackers breach the data and spread it online, it will damage the college’s reputation and violate students’ privacy. Therefore, cybersecurity is of utmost importance in the education sector, and all institutes must hire cyber security professional to review their safety frameworks.
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