US Schools’ Cybersecurity sucks and it’s costing taxpayers millions of dollars

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Lately, cybersecurity has been a hot topic. With the data, breaches keep piling up and the ever-growing rate of cyberattacks, everyone needs to pay attention to cybersecurity. I’ll tell you why education institutions need to focus on cybersecurity for this decade and how they can go about it.

In a 2016 analysis provided by a cyber risk management company BitSight, higher education institutions had the highest rate of ransomware attacks among all industries evaluated and the second-highest rate in BitSight’s 2017 report. As a result, institutions are working around the clock to strengthen their defenses against these potentially devastating losses. Dealing with cyberattacks is a costly and time-consuming endeavor regardless of their effectiveness. Institutions have been forced to fight this battle whether they like it or not.

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What kind of threats does the education sector face?

Phishing

Phishing scams often take the form of an email or instant message and are designed to trick the user into trusting the source. They are carried out in a fraudulent attempt to access credentials. It could be sensitive student data or confidential research.

This type of attack is highlighted as the top threat facing higher education venues, suggesting hackers regularly target the sector using the method.

Ransomware/Malware

Also in the top three cyber threats highlighted by the report, ransomware and malware attacks prevent users from accessing the network or files and cause disruption. Hackers can demand money from the owner as ransom to return the file.

Ransomware or malware typically infects devices using a trojan, a file, or an attachment disguised to look legitimate. However, some ransomware (like the WannaCry attack) can spread between devices without user interaction.

Lack of awareness

The third threat listed by professionals in further and higher education is a lack of awareness or accidents. It could be on the part of staff or students who don’t get sufficiently trained to follow strict guidelines or accidentally compromise the network.

Despite taking on different appearances, human error plays a key part in each of these cybersecurity threats. Institutions can prepare for cyber threats with better overall cybersecurity training and awareness of the motives and methods of attackers.

Why are educational institutions vulnerable to cyberattacks?

Hackers look for a quick payday which is why they use ransomware in their digital attacks. They try to spread their attacks via social media and emails and focus on industries where the odds are more likely to be in their favor.

The education sector has the laxest cybersecurity rules out of all major industries. It also has the highest ransomware threat rate across all the major industries of the United States. The education sector is three times more likely to be hit by a ransomware attack and ten times more likely than the healthcare and finance sectors, respectively.

There are a lot of factors that could be contributing to the high rate of ransomware infections in the education sector.

Information sharing

Educators have a natural “information sharing” mindset. It contributes to a high percentage of peer-to-peer file sharing. Universities and other higher education institutions encourage collaboration, yet, students and professors frequently engage in file-sharing activities on the primary network of these institutions. While these activities encourage innovative thinking, they often expose the institute to ransomware risk.

Remote monitoring apps and third-party surveillance tools can be utilized too. They monitor how information and data get shared across a network, whether private or public. As most cyberattacks spread due to human error, monitoring apps can minimize the human factor of cyber threats.

Premium phone monitoring apps like XNSPY can prove beneficial here. They help monitor students’ phones so that they do not open any suspicious links or send scam messages accidentally. The app helps safeguard users’ social media experience. As most scams and malware threats originate over social media, the app protects users from fraudulent and fake profiles.

Many schools and colleges are underfunded

Educational institutions in the US are severely underfunded. As a result, most US schools fail to provide even the most basic IT training to their instructors. In most cases, the IT infrastructure in American schools is inadequate. They use software that’s either obsolete or pirated. Security updates are no longer available for their software. It leaves them vulnerable to both external and internal attacks.

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Colleges and universities depend on funding to operate. Underfunded institutions have to rely on legacy software due to the financial constraints on them. Malicious actors use advanced technology which is no match for the outdated systems and technology used in educational institutions.

Institutions do not have strict cybersecurity protocols

Furthermore, we live in a time when students at all levels of education—from elementary to higher education—are encouraged to bring electronic devices to class. While some of these devices get managed by the school’s IT department, the majority of them are personal. Because there is considerably less IT control over what can and cannot happen in and on the network, the school’s network is vulnerable to cyber threats like ransomware.

The schools do not know how the students spend time on their gadgets. Children get exposed to ransomware, third-party frauds, and malware threats as a result. Third-party monitoring apps for schools can be used to monitor activity to ensure kids do not engage with such threats. As mentioned earlier, since most cyberattacks need human interception to spread, remote monitoring apps could prevent that.

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Politicians are technologically inept

Technology and politics go hand in hand now. Policymakers need to be trained on how the latest technology impacts life and how its misuse can be harmful to the whole of society. A good tech policy cannot be created unless everyone involved is aware of what the latest trends in technology are.

In the United States, the majority of elected officials are over the age of 60. The average age of US senators in the current 116th Congress is 62.9 years, according to a Congressional Research Service report. The House of Representatives, on the other hand, is not much different. The people in charge of developing cybersecurity policies are unaware of the most basic notions of technology.

What can the education sector do to combat cyberattacks?

Institutions should maintain a regularly updated backup of their systems to fall back on if their network gets compromised by ransomware. It may cause some inconvenience because services will be down for a while. It will be beneficial in the long run as the education sector won’t have to bear the brunt of any future threats and the associated financial damage they cause.

Schools, colleges, universities, and other educational institutions should separate the public network from the administrative network. In this way, a ransomware attack on a public network will not harm the critical internal administrative network.

The financial sector often performs well against ransomware. It is well equipped to do so because it has advanced cybersecurity procedures, regulations, and policies. These foster knowledge of new cybersecurity threats, highlight existing vulnerabilities. It isn’t always the case in the education sector. When it comes to cybersecurity, the industry is way behind. As a result, institutional IT teams must keep up with the latest cyber threats and security trends.

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