Cybersecurity Concerns for Education Sector

teacher and middle school kids using computers in classroom representing cybersecurity in schools

While malicious cyberattacks on large corporations often garner the most attention, cybersecurity in schools has become a significant concern. Recent cyber incidents show how a data breach can impact private and public schools and universities.

School systems store large amounts of data related to students, their families, teachers and faculty. Confidential data in the education sector can include home addresses, birth dates, full names and even salary information. While this data isn’t as immediately valuable as a social security number or credit card information, it can still be extremely useful for hackers. A security breach of a school’s database could lead to scammers impersonating friends or family members as part of a phishing attack and, even worse, identity theft.

The Pandemic Effect on Cybersecurity in Schools

Over the past several years, the need for increased cybersecurity in schools has intensified. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck the country, companies sent their employees home to work remotely. Schools, too, came to depend more heavily on remote learning to keep the education of our youth alive. However, as users are connected to less secure networks, a new world for hackers opened up to more easily access private information.

All it takes is for one teacher, student or parent to click on a phishing email created by a bad actor, and a ransomware attack could be underway.

Real-Life Cybersecurity Risks for Educational Institutes

These risks are not hypothetical. According to Security Magazine, the FBI reports that “cybercriminals are hitting schools with malevolent tools and tactics they initially found to be effective against businesses.”

One example is the ZeuS Trojan. This malware targets Microsoft Windows computers running on school computers. It not only freezes the system but also sends stolen personal data back to criminals’ servers. The data can be held hostage or sold on the dark web.

Another incident of a cyberattack on a school district occurred in 2021 when Florida’s Broward County School District got hit with a $40 million ransomware demand. The hackers later lowered their price to $10 million. When the district tried to offer a smaller sum, the hackers published nearly 26,000 stolen files, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Read more about cyber attacks on schools and how it happens. 

Steps to Increase Cybersecurity in Education Sector

In today’s online environment, school districts must take critical key steps to protect the personal data of their teachers, families and students. These are the first steps:

  • Develop an incident response plan that will enable quick action in the event of an attack. A clear, appropriate and timely response to a data breach will help minimize the damage.
  • As the first line of defense, districts should be instructing their IT professionals to install programs that will assist in incident detection and response as well as vulnerability scanning.
  • School districts should require all faculty and staff to take at least an introductory course in cybersecurity awareness to understand the issues that can affect us all – and how to avoid falling victim.
  • Finally, multi-factor authentication, user access control and password management policies should be in place to ensure a secure portal where students can learn effectively without increased concerns of system vulnerabilities.

SecureEd™ Awareness Training for Schools & Universities

Global Learning Systems offers SecureEd, a tailored security awareness training bundle designed to build knowledge in the education sector among administrators, faculty and teachers. A security-minded culture within your school empowers your employees to become your last line of defense.

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