Cybersecurity in the educational sector is, today, one of the great challenges that we must face as a society. As teaching is increasingly supported by new technologies, it is essential to undertake investments and improvements in the cyber protection elements of these environments, since otherwise the damage and negative repercussions can be considerable. In fact, and although it may seems illogical, education is the sector with the highest risk of suffering cyber attacks. According to Microsoft, it represents four-fifths (82.6%) of all malware detected in the last 30 days. But it has also been at the top of the list, if not the first, for years. schools were the target of these attacks. Also, compared to the average, educational institutions are twice as likely to experience a business email fraud attack. This is a crime in which malicious actors impersonate a teaching or non-teaching staff member in order to of trying to trick others into sharing information or approving financial transactions. Distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, which flood networks with an overwhelming amount of traffic, targeting educational institutions have also increased. These DDoS attacks can not only disrupt online learning, but are also used to cover up attempts to penetrate network defenses and inject malware into the system.
The educational sector is very varied: from small colleges or institutes to huge universities with several campuses
However, there are some common elements that make them attractive targets. Risk awareness and recognition is key to mitigation. These risks include:A new set of goals a year: Educational institutions welcome a new student body each year, who may need training to manage the computer equipment provided, as well as assistance in familiarizing themselves with required authentication routines and best practices regarding access to the resources they need to learn.Rise of E-Learning: e-learning and remote learning were already in full swing when the covid-19 pandemic hit. This meant an exponential increase in email traffic, making it easier for attacks to hide. The drastic increase in students learning from home also makes the transparent availability of data and applications, as well as the scalability of remote access mechanisms, essential.Multiple locations: Regardless of whether it is a large university with campuses throughout the region or city, a board of education, or a multi-academic group, multiple locations present a greater security challenge. There is the potential for students, faculty, and non-teaching staff to access the network legitimately from many locations, making it difficult for attackers to detect.Valuable data: While some attacks are just malicious pranks, most cybercriminals are looking for financial or material gain. Financial institutions house large amounts of high-value data, such as the personally identifiable information (Pii) of students, parents, and teaching and non-teaching staff; payment and account information; and, in many cases, valuable intellectual property in the form of research data. This can make them targets for extortion or cyber-espionage activities and even state-sponsored attacks.Access to public or semi-public networks: Many institutions can have public Wi-Fi access for parents and visitors or shared terminals in public spaces.User Training Required: users are the first (and arguably the best) line of defense against danger. It is essential to educate users (and by users we mean students and teaching and non-teaching staff) to recognize and report threats to network security.Vendor and partner vulnerability: Educational institutions have relationships with vendors, contractors, and research partners from the public and private sectors. It is vital to ensure that these parties maintain good network practice. Otherwise, these third parties can be the basis for an island-hopping attack, in which the attacker uses a provider’s or partner’s network to access their own. an attacker are simply to cause disruption and destruction. However, it is more likely that he intends to profit in some way. This may be a ransomware gang extorting ransom in exchange for releasing the data it has encrypted. They may be identity thieves who want to steal credentials and sell them. Or they could be corporate or state-sponsored agents who want to remove or extract intellectual property. Ultimately, the result of all this is that educational institutions are forced to defend themselves by improving network security in layers and in depth. Layers of network security keep educational institutions safe and agile. Network security is not a product, program, or checklist. It is a comprehensive approach that creates layers of defense so that organizations are protected while operating effectively. In the case of educational institutions, extremely strict security, with too many checkpoints, passwords and verifications that prevent students from accessing their classes, using email or consulting materials, is a mistake. Using a single layer, as resistant as it is, would not work either. If a criminal infiltrates a teacher’s email account and then can freely roam the entire network, that’s another failure. What you need to do is use security layers that span the entire network to provide different types of security throughout the organization. Multi-layered security that includes full emulation sandboxing functionality ensures effective protection against advanced and sophisticated threats, while mitigating the risk of falling victim to a ransomware attack. Moving to the cloud offers great benefits and expertly managed security that is always up to date. Network security is achieved by robust components working together. Strong firewalls and control mechanisms must be used to keep intruders at bay. In addition, network segmentation must be applied to limit the lateral movements of users and possible intruders who manage to bypass access controls. Ideally, access to all applications, regardless of whether they are within the network, hosted in the cloud or subject to a saas plan, should be combined with Zero trust principles, such that identifiers are continually checked user ID, device status, and other essential parameters before allowing encrypted access to the application. Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) also ensures that each user only has access to the applications they need, in order to avoid the gradual accumulation of privileges.
The education sector is facing a torrent of threats from cybercriminals trying to access their networks for profit. Malware, ransomware, and all other types of cyberattacks are wreaking havoc in educational institutions. One thing is for sure: the right time to protect yourself against these threats is now. Network security sounds like a daunting task because it is. But you can get a reasonable level of security that allows you to successfully deal with all these threats. And best of all, this security can be cloud-based and easy to deploy and maintain. This reduces the workload of already overwhelmed IT staff and provides educational institutions with a cost-effective solution to ensure security is up-to-date at all times.Author: Miguel López, Country Manager, Barracuda Iberia