The shift to digital learning in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has opened up opportunities for schools to adopt new EdTech tools and create more innovative learning environments. But this also has given cybercriminals new avenues to attack school networks, devices and data.
It should come as no surprise that 2020 was a record-breaking year for cyberattacks against schools. The K-12 Cybersecurity Resource Center recorded 408 publicized attacks – an 18 percent increase over 2019. In early December 2020 alone, the FBI reported a 30 percent jump in ransomware attacks targeting educational organizations, leading the agency to designate K-12 schools as the most targeted public sector.
Why Cybersecurity Is a Critical Issue in K-12
These attacks have not only disrupted online learning (sometimes for several days); they have also led to the loss of thousands of student records, often with no means of on-site data recovery. Though most students and teachers have returned to the classroom by the end of the 2021-2022 school year, there are no signs that cyberattacks are slowing down. In fact, district-level leaders have ranked cybersecurity as their top concern for the past seven years.
Despite this, schools face numerous challenges in implementing robust cybersecurity measures, namely budget constraints and a lack of understanding of the importance of having a solid security posture.
However, implementing solutions to improve cybersecurity doesn't have to be prohibitively expensive or difficult to comprehend. Working with a trusted partner that understands the unique challenges in education can help schools pinpoint vulnerabilities, define actions to close security gaps and build resiliency to protect against future threats.
Trends in K-12 Cybersecurity Threats
Malware and phishing are the two most common types of cyberattacks, and schools are not immune to these threats. In fact, educational organizations may be more likely to be targeted by cybercriminals due to factors such as:
- Poor industry-wide security posture: Education ranked last among 17 industries profiled in a 2018 SecurityScorecard report.
- Lack of IT staff and skillset: Only 1 in 5 districts in the U.S. has a full-time staffer dedicated to cybersecurity.
- Increased number of endpoint devices: Remote and hybrid learning became the norm during the pandemic, with more devices being connected to unsecured networks.
- Minimal training on cyber hygiene and compliance: Access to cybersecurity training for both educators and students is inconsistent across learning communities, with small and high-poverty districts less likely to have resources available.
- Vendor management challenges: Many districts partner with dozens of technology vendors, making it difficult to keep track of gaps in cybersecurity.
How Schools Can Prepare for Cyber Threats
Preventing an attack tends to be significantly less costly than managing the fallout of a successful breach, so it's critical to invest in cybersecurity solutions to avoid the loss of money, student and staff data, and instruction time.
Experts recommend protecting all aspects of an educational organization's online presence:
Protect end-user devices connected to a network or cloud with technologies including antivirus tools, endpoint protection platforms (EPP) and endpoint detection and response (EDR) to detect, prevent and respond to cyberattacks in real-time.
Prevent and remediate internal and external threats with next-generation firewalls, intrusion prevention, and detection and response systems designed for complete system visibility.
Safeguard cloud-based data and applications and protect against data loss and malicious theft with tools that elevate application visibility, security and control for hybrid learning environments.
Detect and block threats deployed through email and the Internet with real-time protection technologies, including spam and DNS filters, encryption and antivirus.
Keep user data secure with backup and recovery software for the cloud for on-premises and hybrid learning environments and backup-as-a-service (BaaS) solutions.
Awareness and compliance training for students and staff to improve cybersecurity hygiene and reduce phishing and social engineering attacks.
Adapt to the Changing Landscape of Cyber Threats in Education
Don't leave your school's networks, devices and data vulnerable to cyberattacks. With the right cybersecurity tools, you can receive ongoing protection against threats and improve your security posture.
Bluum is a trusted cybersecurity resource. Our roots are in education with a deep understanding of schools' unique challenges. We are partnered with industry leaders in the cybersecurity space and can address your needs with a thorough assessment and a portfolio of comprehensive solutions and services.
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