In our world, everything is becoming more digital and connected. Our smartphones, tablets, laptops, cars, light bulbs and even thermostats are all connected to the internet. And while this technology is used for good, it can also be used for bad. A growing number of cyberattacks are targeting our digital lives and attacking vulnerable institutions, such as schools.
More students than ever before have been learning from home. At the beginning of the pandemic, It was estimated that 70% of the total school population globally had been affected. Schools were switched to remote learning, and at present, many of them continue to offer remote or hybrid learning.
Remote learning is the practice of teaching someone at a distance, without physically being in the same room. In the past year, there has been an explosion of remote learning programs in schools, colleges and universities, with the intention of providing accessible education. The reality is that most schools have made the leap to an online learning environment, and remote learning programs are still fraught with security vulnerabilities, which makes them ripe for cyber attacks.
Fully remote education is a relatively new phenomenon, and it continues to be one that raises a lot of questions and concerns. Students may be using old equipment, and schools often have older IT infrastructure. Both situations may pose potential security risks. How does one assess the risk of a remote learning environment? How can one ensure data privacy and security in such a context? How can one design security controls in a remote learning environment?
Remote Learning Risks
A school’s data is a valuable asset that needs to be protected from hackers, criminals, and other unauthorized people. IT professionals must be able to take responsibility for keeping this valuable asset safe, which means taking a proactive approach to implementing security measures. However, not all schools are the same, and each has unique needs and challenges that must be met.
In the past couple of years, education has been hit hard by cyber attacks, and it seems like it will be a trend for the next couple of years as well. Cybercriminals have been catching on to the vulnerability of the educational sector, and they have been using the tools and techniques previously implemented in the stock market, producing malware that is designed to steal the sensitive data of the targets, including usernames, passwords, bank account details and more.
Schools typically have tight budgets, and cybersecurity might not be considered a top priority. Additionally, schools may believe that new equipment means the chance of any cyber threat is low. However, newer infrastructure actually could create more vulnerabilities as the system has only been freshly deployed.
Schools are particularly vulnerable in terms of cyber security for these reasons:
● Schools do not tend to have a digital security team. Money tends to be allocated to resources that are deemed as higher priority. Schools do not typically have a chief information security officer, as they do at many organizations.
● Schools tend to have older systems and IT infrastructure. While teachers and students may own the latest technology, there are many computers throughout the school that are likely aged and are running on older operating systems. Many schools continue to use older software without updating the technology, potentially opening up networks to security risks.
● The Wi-Fi connection itself may pose a problem, such as hackers being able to gain access to devices.
● Many students and teachers use their own devices when joining the school network. Without a security policy, there are no means for ensuring that the connections and devices are safe.
Types of Cyberattacks on Remote Learning
Malware has been a growing concern for schools and school IT departments. In fact, it has become a veritable epidemic in schools. Malicious email attachments, malicious links in emails, malicious downloads from websites, malicious social network submissions-all of these are common ways that malware and viruses enter school computers. The reasons schools are being hit so hard with malware is because of three main causes: 1) the right mix of target(s), 2) a lack of a good security strategy, and 3) a lack of protective measures.
There is a large number of ransomware attacks circulating around the world. They are malicious programs, which are designed to hold your system hostage by encrypting your files and demanding ransom money in exchange for restoring access to your files and data. WannaCry is one of the most devastating ransomware attacks that had its initial outbreak in 2017. It was an international cyberattack, which began in more than 150 countries. The most recent attack occured in April 2021, where remote classes were forced to be cancelled. School ransomware attacks are becoming more prevalent as cybercriminals increasingly target schools.
Protecting the Schools
It’s no secret that cybersecurity threats are widespread for schools, and they’re getting worse. In fact, IoT (internet of things) devices have been hacked at a record pace over the past year. The spread of threats is a concern for all organizations and schools must be careful to avoid falling victim to these cyber threats. An effective defense strategy for organizations is one that can be deployed quickly and that can easily and effectively roll out to new devices and locations as needed.
We can expect positive developments in that space to come along, but the bad news is that these hacks are only the tip of the iceberg. The good news is that using a combination of awareness and defense is the best way to protect ourselves from cyberattacks.
AGT is a cybersecurity company armed with industry-leading products and services focused on protecting organizations such as schools against cyberthreats. Our team is composed of cyber experts who are ready to help you prevent and respond to cyberattacks, even those that have not yet been identified.
Learn more about AGT’s services here.
Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com.