Understanding the Cyber Risks To Educational Institutions and How to Mitigate Them 

Why are education institutions being targeted? Cybersecurity strategies to help mitigate risk.

In recent years, educational institutions have become a prime target for threat actors looking to exploit weaknesses in their cybersecurity strategies. From K-12 schools to colleges and universities, educational institutions of all types and sizes have been targeted by cybercriminals seeking to steal sensitive data, disrupt operations, and extort money.  

In this blog post, we’ll explore why threat actors are targeting educational institutions and what schools can do to protect themselves. 

Why Are Educational Institutions Being Targeted? 

Several factors make educational institutions an attractive target for threat actors: 

  1. Sensitive data: Educational institutions collect and store a wealth of sensitive data, including student records, financial information, and intellectual property which makes them a lucrative target for cybercriminals looking to steal and monetize this information. This data is highly valuable to cybercriminals, who can use it for identity theft, financial fraud, or selling on the dark web. 
  1. Limited resources: Many educational institutions have limited resources to devote to cybersecurity, making them an easier target for attackers. This makes it harder to invest in the necessary technology and expertise to defend against cyber threats. Cybercriminals know that schools often lack dedicated cybersecurity staff, adequate funding for security measures, or up-to-date software and hardware.  
  1. The complexity of the environment: Educational institutions have complex IT environments that are often spread across multiple locations and devices. The decentralized nature of educational institutions can make it challenging to implement consistent security policies and protocols across all departments and users, creating vulnerabilities that cybercriminals can exploit. This complexity can also make it more difficult for schools to detect and respond to security threats. 
  1. Human error: Like all organizations, educational institutions are vulnerable to human error. The large and diverse user base, including students, staff, and alumni, increases the potential for human error and increases the attack surface. Students, faculty, and staff may inadvertently click on malicious links, download malware, or fall for phishing scams, giving attackers an entry point into the school’s network. 

What Types of Threats Are Targeting Educational Institutions?

Threat actors targeting educational institutions use a variety of tactics to exploit vulnerabilities in the school’s defences. The decentralized nature of educational institutions layered on top of multiple user personas can make it challenging to implement consistent cybersecurity strategies, policies and protocols across all departments and users. Here are a few of the most common threats: 

  • Ransomware: Ransomware attacks are on the rise in the education sector. Attackers use malware to encrypt school data and demand payment in exchange for the decryption key. 
  • Phishing: Phishing attacks are a common tactic used by cybercriminals to gain access to a school’s network. Attackers may send emails that appear to be from a trusted source, such as a bank or government agency, and trick recipients into clicking on a malicious link or downloading a file. 
  • Malware: Malware attacks can take many forms, from Trojan horses to viruses. Attackers may use malware to steal data, disrupt operations, or gain control of a school’s network. 
  • Insider threats: Insider threats are a growing concern for educational institutions. These threats can come from students, faculty, or staff who intentionally or unintentionally compromise the school’s security. 

Educational institutions are facing a range of cyber threats from various threat actors. It is essential to implement effective cybersecurity strategies, including regular training, incident response planning, and investing in the necessary technology and expertise to safeguard their data and assets from cyber threats. 

What Can Educational Institutions Do To Protect Themselves? 

Despite limited budgets, educational institutions can still take proactive steps and implement cybersecurity strategies to protect themselves from cyber threats. They can take proactive steps to protect themselves including: 

  1. Conduct a risk assessment: Schools should conduct a risk assessment to identify vulnerabilities and potential threats. This assessment should include an inventory of all devices and systems connected to the school’s network, as well as an analysis of the school’s policies and procedures related to cybersecurity. 
  1. Implement access controls: Schools should implement access controls to limit the amount of data that can be accessed by students, faculty, and staff. This can include limiting access to sensitive data based on job function, as well as requiring multi-factor authentication for access to certain systems. 
  1. Provide security awareness training: Schools should provide security awareness training to students, faculty, and staff to help them identify potential threats and understand how to protect themselves and the school’s network. Training should cover topics such as phishing, password security, and safe browsing practices. 
  1. Implement security technologies: Schools should implement security technologies such as firewalls, antivirus software, and intrusion detection systems to protect their network. These technologies can help detect and prevent threats before they can cause damage. 
  1. Develop an incident response plan: Schools should develop an incident response plan to help them respond effectively and efficiently to cyber attacks. 

While cybersecurity threats facing educational institutions may seem daunting, many practical and effective steps they can take to protect themselves, even with limited resources. By prioritizing security awareness and leveraging customizable solutions like Difenda MXDR  institutions can enhance their overall security posture and defend against cyber threats. 

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Megan Miller

Megan Miller’s energy and passion for learning flow into all aspects of her work. As the Growth Manager, North America, she brings a background in sciences which she has transitioned to the tech sector in her role at Difenda.

With a Bachelors of Science in Geology, Megan is a lifelong learner who is voracious about learning anything she can get her hands on about cybersecurity. Her positive energy has built a sales strategy with a focus on expanding in the United States while nurturing the Canadian presence. She is responsible for recruiting and training the sales team. Together with the company’s leadership, she creates the sales process and the company’s product strategy in order to better serve the customer base. This ensures that our customers have a highly trained and highly motivated team to help them every step of the way, Megan has completed Microsoft SC-900 training and working towards mastering Microsoft.

Whether at work or play, Megan is fully committed. She took her love of hockey all the way to the semi-professional level as a competitive hockey player. Megan loves all things sports including water skiing, scuba diving, cycling, and snowboarding. She also enjoys time with family and reading about alternative energy, innovation, and cybersecurity.

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As the recipient of the Outstanding Services Partner of the Year Award in 2018, it is clear that Natasha responds quickly to customer needs, creates a platform for understanding a customer’s business requirements, and walks them through the process to ensure their complete satisfaction.

In her spare time, Natasha is as energetic and passionate as she is on the job. A self-proclaimed foodie-extraordinaire, she enjoys dinner parties, traveling, downhill skiing, hiking, biking, and reading. Natasha has a Bachelor of Fine Arts, specializing in Dance, from Ryerson University.

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Having attended the Information Systems Management certificate program at Ryerson University, and with various other certifications to her credit, Lisa is perceptive and innovative when it comes to information technology, but also sensitive to the needs of her human constituents. Responsible for achieving the first privately owned company HDI Support Center certification in Canada, she has also designed and implemented Service Management excellence programs and 24×7 IT Operations departments for multiple IT organizations, and has created corporate rewards and recognition programs to keep her employees engaged and motivated.

On the personal side, Lisa passionately supports the cause of breast cancer research, having lost her mother to the disease. She reads voraciously in her spare time, and enjoys the art of home renovation. The summer months also bring time on her boat and exploring new hiking trails.

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When she is not building a brand, she shares her ability to fill the gaps in her community by volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, the Special Olympics, and the Charleston Food Bank. In her spare time, Miranda spends time with her family, enjoys fitness and health, paddle boarding, reading, and arts and crafts.

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Connections are the name of the game for Juliana Zaremba. As Strategic Partnerships Director, she is responsible for Difenda’s channel partnerships and the development and ownership of the channel partner program. She is also responsible for the global Microsoft Partnership, including the creation of strategic plans with MSFT contacts that will facilitate the continued growth of the business and establish certification and training protocols in all security technologies. Her role is multifaceted, as she acquires partners, manages relationships with them, and develops strategies that will provide cutting edge security solutions to our customer base. Another integral aspect of her job is to facilitate growth.

With a Bachelor’s in Math from the University of Waterloo and 14 years of experience from her previous roles at Herjavec Group and CDW, her cutting edge focus and ability to develop long-lasting relationships and strategies provides world class security solutions to our customer base.

Juliana thrives on connections outside of work as well. She is a philanthropist and contributor with Women4Change based in Hamilton. This group of local women is passionate about supporting local causes, and she focuses her efforts around Women in STEM. She is also a member of Club Italia in Niagara Falls and supports their youth events throughout the year.

When not managing the Microsoft Global partnership, Juliana enjoys reading, often reading several books at once. Juliana enjoys exploring the Niagara Escarpment with her family, as well as sharing meals and experiences with her extended family. Juliana’s competitive nature has her always trying new things, like Whoop band challenges and Peloton.

Jeffry Jacob

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