Top Common Cyber Threats for Schools

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It’s no secret that our world is increasingly reliant on technology, and as a result, cyber-attacks have increased. However, for the Education sector, cybersecurity has been a challenge.

Since the Pandemic, the number of attacks against educational institutes such as Schools, Colleges, and Universities has increased putting pressure on these institutes to kick start initiatives to raise awareness levels and be educated on the digital threats.

When a cyberattack occurs against an education sector, it results as equally damaging as it is to any other business. The education sector is a lucrative target for cybercriminals – both in terms of data and money. Student and teacher personal data, intellectual property such as curriculum to research are golden nuggets, which is why it’s important to take precautions.

In this blog, we’ll examine the top five cyber threats to schools, and what you can do to start protecting your institute.

5 most common cyber threats to schools:

Cybercriminals have been known to attack school systems in a variety of ways. Here are the top 5 most common methods used.

1.  Phishing Scams

The majority of cybersecurity threats begin with phishing. A Phishing attack involves sending out a legitimate-looking email that appears to be from an official to extract personal data. Phishing attacks are designed to steal personal information such as login credentials, credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, and bank account details to commit fraud.

In some cases, a phishing attack can prompt you to click a link within the email. The link will install malware on your computer, allowing the hacker to obtain personal information or move your data from your machine to someone else’s.

How to spot a Phish?

Even though Phishing attacks are designed to look real, you can always spot a real message from a fake by looking out for the red flags.

  • Pay close attention to any website addresses inserted in the email. Hover over the website URL to see if it’s the same.
  • The “From” address is a spoof of an actual address, particularly one from a company.
  • Always check the format and style of an email you would receive from a company.
  • Look for spelling and grammatical errors.
  • Look at the language of the email, If it appears to create a sense of urgency, it’s likely to be fake.
2.   Zoom Bombing

Since the Pandemic, cybercriminals have broken into online classes held over Zoom to cause havoc. Zoomboming is a fairly new cyber threat that ranges from verbally attacking children to disclosing personal information about them or showing inappropriate images. In 2021, the Anti-Defamation League reported 196 cases of antisemitic Zoomboming incidents.

How to protect yourself from Zoom Bombing

  • When hosting online classes, create a unique ID for every session.
  • Enable the “Waiting Room” function so you can check who is trying to join your online classes
  • Disable the “Join before Host” feature to stay in control of all online classes.
  • Close the meeting to outsiders once it has begun and everyone has arrived.
3.  Data Breach

Between 2016 to 2020, thousands of student data was at risk. Personal information such as grades, bullying reports, and Social Security numbers was among the items stolen in these incidents which can lead them emotionally or physically harm depending on how it’s used by malicious actors.

How to avoid a data breach?

To avoid a data breach at your institute, your IT staff needs to take several steps to ensure that your data is protected.

  • Getting staff trained
  • Updating your systems and software
  • Regularly backing-up your data
  • Making sure your management information system (MIS) is secure
  • Enabling multi-factor authentication
  • Making sure your IT staff conduct regular access/permissions reviews
  • Using a password manager
  • Having a firewall in place
  • Checking your supply chain is secure and not a risk to your school
4.   Ransomware Attacks

Ransomware is a type of malicious software that encrypts data and requires a ransom to be paid to regain access to the data. Cybercriminals also may threaten the data owners to release the data unless a ransom is paid. Sometimes e-mails are sent to parents and students with ransom being demanded from the schools.

Ransomware attacks on K-12 school districts have been on the rise. Since 2016, there were at least 1,062 reported attacks on school districts across the U.S. 53 school districts have been attacked so far in 2020, costing over $7.5 billion, and since July, at least 16 school districts have been victims of ransomware attacks.

How to prevent ransomware attacks

Ransomware is becoming increasingly popular and dangerous, so it’s best to stay away from emails that ask for sensitive information like passwords. Furthermore:

  • Keep your operating systems and software (especially anti-virus software) up to date.
  • Data should be backed up regularly to the cloud or an external disc that is turned off when not in use.
  • Only download from reputable websites.
  • Never utilize a USB drive that you aren’t familiar with.
  • When conducting confidential business, avoid using public WiFi (or use a secure VPN).
5.  Risks associated with People

Human nature is probably one of the most serious cybersecurity vulnerabilities. Human error is the most common cause of cybersecurity breaches. People, unlike robots, are not perfect, and their decision-making processes are influenced by a variety of circumstances. This does not always indicate carelessness on the part of people in charge, but rather a lack of understanding of cybersecurity as a process.

Most teachers are already aware of the internet’s drawbacks. Teachers are aware of cyberbullying, continuous texting during class, and other issues. However, teachers can underestimate the serious threat of cyber attacks on schools. These range from stolen personal information to financial fraud. That’s why everyone needs to be aware of the potential dangers.

What can you do to reduce human errors?

The only way to reduce the risks of human errors is by bringing a balance between technology and education. There are technology solutions out there that can help schools keep their data safe. To truly protect data, it’s important to invest in a solution that can keep your data locked and in your control. Whilst technology solutions can only go so far, it’s important to also educate and raise awareness of the potential dangers your staff can face. That’s why enrolling in Security Awareness programs can make a difference. There are plenty of security awareness programs such as Siccura Cybershield, Knowb4, and others that increase awareness on cyber threats such as Ransomware, Phishing, internet safety.

Cyberthreats are never going to go away. They will only evolve into sophisticated threats that will be harder to detect. That’s why it’s important to start educating staff and students on the threats they would face and protect your data.


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