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Cybersecurity in schools: a sanctuary for cybercriminals?

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Cybersecurity in schools: a sanctuary for cybercriminals?

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Schools have historically been regarded as secure havens for students; a place where they can learn and develop in a protected setting. With the advent of the digital age, however, students and faculty at K-12 schools and universities face increasing risks to their private data. Schools deal with an abundance of sensitive data, including pupil records (including birth dates, addresses, and contact information), medical information, financial information, and employment records for teachers and administrators. Hackers and cybercriminals increasingly target educational institutions to hold sensitive data for ransom in exchange for monetary benefit or to steal it and sell it on the Dark Web. Educational institutions must implement robust cybersecurity programmes to safeguard the school, students, and faculty.

The growing number of ransomware threats

As in many other industries, the growth of ransomware is currently one of the most significant threats confronting the education sector. According to Verizon's 2022 Data Breach Investigation Report, which analysed over 5,200 confirmed data breaches, ransomware attacks increased by 13 percent, which is a greater increase than the previous five years combined. More than 30 percent of the investigated data breaches in the education sector were the consequence of ransomware attacks.

As schools frequently have limited budgets and personnel dedicated to cybersecurity and may not have the resources to recover swiftly from an attack, ransomware attacks on schools can be especially devastating.

The human element in cybersecurity

Another risk to school cybersecurity is the "human factor." Employees and users with good intentions are the weakest link in any cybersecurity programme, and institutions are no exception. Social engineering techniques are employed by cybercriminals to deceive users into divulging sensitive information such as login credentials or confidential information. Phishing attacks, which consist of bogus emails that appear to originate from a reliable source, are a common social engineering tactic used against students and faculty. In the 2022 Cybersecurity Breaches Survey conducted as part of the United Kingdom's National Cyber Strategy, 88% of primary schools and 97% of higher education colleges reported experiencing phishing attacks within the previous 12 months.

In addition to our propensity to fall for social engineering techniques, we are also prone to making errors. 34% of the breaches analysed in the education sector, according to the Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report, were the result of an email sent to the incorrect recipient or with the wrong attachment. Misconfigurations in a school's endpoints (including computers and mobile devices), databases, or IT systems can also create vulnerabilities that attackers can use to gain access to the network.

Providing prevention, detection, and response to threats

Any good cybersecurity programme starts with threat prevention, detection, and response to safeguard schools from escalating cyber dangers. Prevention comprises fixing misconfigurations and vulnerabilities, safeguarding email and endpoint devices, and managing risk, including human behaviour. Cybersecurity technologies and services help schools detect, respond, and recover from threats.

Bitdefender GravityZone Business Security helps K-12 and higher education organisations "Level Up" their cybersecurity with improved prevention and numerous levels of proactive protection. First, Bitdefender security eliminates misconfigurations and vulnerabilities and updates operating systems and applications using the GravityZone Patch Management add-on to reduce risk. It protects data by monitoring network shares, preventing file encryption, and producing automatic backups. Real-time monitoring detects suspicious behaviour, prevents malware and malicious processes, and enables fast and accurate incident response to limit attacker dwell time and infection recovery.Human Risk Analytics and the Security for Email add-on enable GravityZone Business Security prevent human-caused breaches.

Bitdefender Managed Detection and Response (MDR) Foundations delivers 24x7 monitoring and response for schools with limited cybersecurity resources and employees. Bitdefender's highly trained threat hunters and security analysts help customers harden their environments to prevent breaches and continuously monitor for and eliminate ransomware, zero-days, and phishing attempts across endpoints, networks, and cloud environments. Most schools onboard in a day.

Utilising Bitdefender GravityZone

There is an increasing worry among K-12 and higher education institutions about cybersecurity risks like ransomware, phishing, and data breaches. A solid cybersecurity programme can protect schools, students, and staff through prevention, detection, and response. Schools can take a preventative stance on robust cybersecurity with the Bitdefender GravityZone platform or services like Bitdefender Managed Detection and Response.

Harun Shah

May 18, 2023