cybersecurity in education

Cybersecurity in education is every bit as important as it is in business, and this sector is increasingly targeted by cyber criminals. It’s not just state schools who appear to be vulnerable. Higher education institutions and independent schools are regularly targeted, and UK universities suffered more than 1000 attacks last year.

There are two main areas of vulnerability:

  • Personal data: Education establishments hold sensitive data about their students as well as their staff. Particularly vulnerable children may have their domestic arrangements and history stored in school computers.
  • Finances: Schools, colleges and universities handle enormous sums of money. Bursaries, student loans, tuition fees and school fees add up to a tempting haul for the cyber thief. This data is valuable to a cyber thief as well as sought after by criminal third parties.

How do criminals target schools?

Security breaches aren’t always straight forward. The BBC reported at least one school having students’ work stolen in an attack from ransomware. It is believed a member of staff opened a malicious email, allowing the virus to enter the schools systems.

Education Executive estimate that 1 in 5 education establishments in the UK have fallen foul of a cybersecurity breach.  Their research found that three quarters of these attacks resulted in malware being downloaded into school and college systems. Phishing attacks are also regularly attempted on education computer systems.

It’s not just schools and colleges that are affected. Student Finance England process nearly 2 million applications a year and hold sensitive and private data about each of those applicants. With an estimated 1 million attacks on this data a year, it is clear that cybersecurity should be priority in all areas of education.

Why isn’t cybersecurity in education currently effective?

Online safety is being taught to students of all ages. The same level of education needs to be given to staff and tutors, too. Anyone with access to an establishment’s systems needs to be aware of how threats materialise. A lack of training leaves a school or college exposed to a well planned cyber attack.

Budgetary constraints often lead to security updates being ignored, and out-of-date protection software is not always replaced. The complexity and ingenuity of cyber crime evolves continuously, so actions to combat threats needs to be equally proactive.

Once devices belonging to students and staff are also linked up to a network, they may offer an easier gateway into the system for a cyber criminal.

Improving cybersecurity in education systems

The cost of recovering from a cybersecurity breach can be frightening. Finding the budget to implement effective defence systems could save, rather than cost, an education establishment huge sums. Using IT protection specialists to implement your security helps avoid expensive mistakes

Developing policies which are adhered to by all users is essential. This is difficult to police and monitor in large organisations, however. With so many users and visitors, security measures need to be particularly robust. This will include limiting access to networks for unprotected personal devices.

Comprehensive training will eliminate the majority of successful attacks.  One of the cyber criminal’s most effective tools is human error. Having all staff able to spot well disguised emails is essential.

Careful monitoring of software installed onto systems as well as any hardware being used by staff and students will contribute to eliminating 3rd party attacks. All security updates and patches  issued by software and hardware manufacturers should be immediately installed.

Contact City Business Solutions for a free cybersecurity consultation, and find out how we can improve cybersecurity for your education facility.