As students head back to school, hackers are heading back to work. Cyber security researchers report an increase in attacks on education sector groups; from schools to research environments. Educational institutions themselves acknowledge contending with an unprecedented number of cyber attacks. In recent weeks, schools have battled cyber issues that have temporarily suspended online operations or led them to pay ransom demands.

If you work on behalf of the education sector, you’re likely wondering how concerned you should be. The information in the section below can provide valuable perspective…

Education sector attacks increase

Since 2016, cyber security attacks targeting the education sector have increased by five fold. The switch to virtual learning environments due to the coronavirus pandemic has increased opportunities for hackers.

Although many schools are offering in-person learning this year, in many places, virtual learning remains an option. As a result, much concern persists pertaining to cyber security and education.

  • In July of 2021, the sector saw a 29% increase in attacks as compared with July of 2020.
  • The most targeted countries within the education sector include India, Italy and Israel.
  • In India, organizations in the education/research sector experienced an average of 5,196 attacks per week per organization.
  • Similarly, in Italy, education groups experienced an average of 5, 016 attacks weekly per organization.

The chart below shows the average number of weekly attacks per organization in 15 different geographic locales.

Education sector attacks

Education sector attacker motivations

Hackers target schools for an array of reasons. In some cases, hackers aim to obtain personally identifying information belonging to children. This enables hackers to start building plans for identity theft in a few years. For parents of young children, it could be ten years or more before they realize that something is amiss with their child’s credit report, for example.

Further, hackers know that schools either do not or cannot afford to invest in robust cyber security prevention and defense technologies. This can make phishing attacks and ransomware deployment easy for hackers.

That said, in the way that schools prepare for physical hazards (fires, earthquakes…etc), schools must also prepare for cyber hazards.

Preparing: Education sector threats

Educational environments are designed to provide new learning opportunities. This holds true when it comes to cyber security too. These tips can help you prepare for and prevent education sector-focused cyber attacks:

  • Be mindful of passwords. Consider strengthening passwords used for online learning platforms and encourage others to do the same.
  • Sidestep phishing threats. If a link looks suspicious in any way, avoid clicking. In addition, only download content from reliable, verifiable sources.
  • Reduce your attack surface. Cyber criminals often attempt to exploit endpoints, such as mobile devices; from iPads to phones. In other words, take control of these devices and ensure that you have security controls deployed. Further, be sure to adhere to and enforce organizational policies when it comes to endpoint device compliance.
  • Anti-ransomware technology. This type of tech enables organizations to see the signs of ransomware before it harms systems. With anti-ransomware technology, you can uncover running mutations of known and unknown malware families. This is done via behavioral analysis and generic rules.
  • Contain and remediate. By detecting and stopping command and control traffic, your organization can better contain attacks and minimize damage. Once intruders are halted, you can remediate and sterilize your environment.

For further information about education sector cyber security, see Cyber Talk’s past coverage or read this solutions brief. Lastly, sign up for the Cyber Talk weekly newsletter here.