With the increasing adoption of technology in education, academic institutions have become a prime target for cyber attacks. Student data, which contains sensitive information such as personal details, financial records, and academic records, is a valuable commodity for hackers. Cybersecurity threats such as ransomware, phishing, and data breaches in the education system are becoming more sophisticated and frequent. Educational institutions need to take proactive steps to protect student data before data breaches cause them to go backward in technological advancements like using the internet, laptops, and devices to aid in learning.
Cybersecurity threats in education
The education sector is particularly vulnerable to cyber attacks due to the large amounts of personal and financial data that schools and universities collect, store and process. While hackers aren’t necessarily interested in geometry lessons and grades, identity information of minors is especially valuable to criminals interested in perpetrating credit and tax fraud. The following are some of the most common cybersecurity threats that educational institutions face:
- Ransomware — A type of malware that encrypts an organization’s data, making it unusable until a ransom is paid. This can result in significant disruption to the educational institution’s operations and can even result in the loss of critical data. At least 44 universities or colleges and 45 U.S. school districts were hit by ransomware attacks in 2022.
- Phishing — A form of cyber attack that uses social engineering to trick individuals into divulging sensitive information, such as login credentials or financial information. Educational institutions are particularly vulnerable to phishing attacks due to their large number of users and the wide range of information they handle.
- Malware — Refers to any type of malicious software that is designed to harm or disrupt computer systems. Malware can be introduced through a variety of methods, including phishing emails, infected software downloads, or malicious websites.
- Data breaches — Occurs when an unauthorized person gains access to sensitive data. This can be due to a variety of factors, such as weak passwords, unsecured networks, and outdated software.
Educational institutions must take proactive steps to protect student data, which may include the following best practices.
Use strong passwords. Educational institutions should require all users to use strong passwords that are difficult to crack. Passwords should be at least eight characters long and include a mix of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols. Passwords should be changed regularly and should not be reused across multiple accounts.
Train staff and students on cybersecurity best practices. Educational institutions should provide training on cybersecurity best practices to all staff and students. Training should cover topics such as password management and identifying phishing and malware. Staff and students should be educated on how to identify and report potential security threats.
Implement access controls. Educational institutions should implement access controls to limit the amount of data each user can access, preventing unauthorized access to sensitive data. Access control methods can include role-based access control, multi-factor authentication, and password policies.
Keep software up to date. Educational institutions should keep all software and systems up to date with the latest security patches and updates. Software updates prevent vulnerabilities from exploited by cyber attackers.
Use encryption to protect sensitive data. Encryption can be used to protect sensitive data both when it is being transmitted and when it is being stored. Data breaches can be stopped before they begin and encryption ensures that data is only accessible to authorized users.
Conduct regular security audits. Educational institutions should conduct regular security audits to identify potential vulnerabilities and areas of weakness. These audits can include penetration testing, vulnerability assessments, and network security scans.
Have a data backup plan. Educational institutions should have a data backup plan in place to ensure critical data is not lost in the event of a ransomware attack or other data loss event. Backups should be stored securely and regularly tested to ensure they are working properly.
Develop an incident response plan. Educational institutions should have an incident response plan in place to ensure that they are prepared to respond quickly and effectively to a cyber attack. This plan should include procedures for identifying and containing the attack, notifying affected parties, and restoring systems and data.
With the increasing number of cyber threats and attacks in the education industry alone, there are numerous career avenues to explore in the field of cybersecurity. Getting involved in the cybersecurity education industry can lead to a lucrative career journey.
ThriveDX is an exceptional resource for individuals currently in the field of cybersecurity, as well as those interested in pursuing a career in the industry. ThriveDX offers courses and training programs that cover various aspects of cybersecurity, including ethical hacking, network security, and incident response. These programs provide individuals with the hands-on experience and practical knowledge necessary to step into the digital skills industry.