Posted by Tyler Chancey, GCFA on

Tyler Chancey is a seasoned cybersecurity professional currently serving as the Director of Cyber Security at Scarlett Cybersecurity Services, With a solid foundation in Computer Software Engineering from the University of Florida, Tyler holds a repertoire of certifications that underscore his expertise. These include the prestigious Microsoft 365 Certified: Enterprise Administrator Expert and Microsoft 365 Certified: Security Administrator Associate, showcasing his mastery in Microsoft's enterprise solutions. Tyler's commitment to comprehensive security is further evidenced by his CompTIA Security+ certification, demonstrating proficiency in core cybersecurity principles. Additionally, his GIAC Certified Forensic Analyst (GCFA) credential attests to his advanced skills in forensic analysis—an invaluable asset in today's complex cybersecurity landscape. Tyler's dedication to staying at the forefront of industry standards is evident in the active pursuit and maintenance of these certifications, making him a trusted authority in the field.

Cyber security in Schools: What You Need to Know.

When it comes to the education sector, cybersecurity is of utmost importance to protect tons of data of staff and students, especially minors from K-12 institutes. In this guide, we are going to talk about Safe Learning techniques and the Importance of cybersecurity in the education sector.

Cybersecurity in education refers to all the methods, measures, and practices implemented to protect the availability, integrity, and confidentiality of sensitive data of educational institutes. It also involves developing different security protocols and training the school's staff and the students to mitigate cyber threats.

According to the stats, the education sector is leading when it comes to suffering the greatest share of cyberattacks from July 2022 to August 2022. The number is outrageous. It goes without saying that data, especially in the education sector of a country, is one of the most important cybersecurity areas that need to be protected at all costs. 

Understanding Cybersecurity in Education

When it comes to the data in educational institutes, it includes academic records, financial information, intellectual property, research data, and most importantly data of students and staff. It’s imperative to establish effective cybersecurity measures to protect this information from malware attacks including phishing, DDoS, and hacking.

Impact of Cyber Attacks on Education Institutions

If you are someone who’s not into cybersecurity that much, you must know the impact that such ransomware attacks can have on an educational institute. A cyber attack can result in the loss of the sensitive information of students, teachers, and staff which can lead to identity theft, fraud, and other financial crimes. 

A ransomware attack can cause disruption of normal operations including the ability to communicate with colleagues online and access different resources. It can cause great damage to reputation which can lead to a loss of trust and credibility with students, faculty, and other stakeholders. And of course, there’s the financial cost.

Common Cybersecurity Threats in Education

The common cybersecurity threats are common in almost every field. If they are common in the industrial sector, they will be common in the education sector as well. The point is, wherever technology is involved, there’s always a cyber threat. In this segment, you will learn some of the most common cybersecurity threats in education.

Phishing and Spear-Phishing Attacks

Phishing attacks are one of the cheapest and easiest ways for a cybercriminal to steal your personal information. A company or an education sector can lose everything simply by clicking on the wrong link. This type of attack involves tricking people into providing sensitive information or downloading malware by posing to be authentic and trustworthy sources. 

Spear-phishing attacks can be considered targeted phishing attacks, they are tailored to a specific individual or group. For instance, they can target the company’s CEOs, or some specific employee to get into the system’s network. The same is the case for the education sector. 

These attacks can come in the form of emails that appear to be from a school administrator or staff member. The email will pose in an authentic way and request login credentials or other sensitive information. That’s why everyone in the school and university must know about such cyber threats.

Precautions and Best Practices against Phishing Attacks

Educational institutions need to enroll their employees and students in different seminars, and webinars that are aimed to raise awareness for such cyber threats. They have to educate them on how to identify and report phishing emails. They must use the best email filtering software to block phishing emails from reaching inboxes. 

Always implement two-factor authentication to prevent unauthorized access. In this way, a cybercriminal won’t be able to enter your network system even if the login credentials are compromised.

Malware Attacks

Malware is a term used to refer a software that is aimed and designed to cause harm to a computer system or network. In the education sector, if you are unfamiliar with these threats, malware can infect computers, servers, and other devices

Such attacks will result in losing sensitive information of students and staff or causing damage to the network and that’s not something you can easily get out of.  Educational institutions, schools, and universities, in particular, are very vulnerable to ransomware attacks due to the huge amount of sensitive data.

Precautionary Measures against Malware Attacks

One of the best and most effective ways is to update all software and operating systems to patch vulnerabilities regularly. Use anti-malware software and limit user privileges to prevent malware from spreading across the network.

DDoS Attacks

Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks is a type of cyber attack that overwhelms a server or a website with continuous garbage traffic. Eventually, the website will slow down or crash and It will make servers and websites unavailable for the actual users.

In the context of education, a DDoS attack will make it impossible for the students and to staff to log into their LMS to access online learning materials and other essential services. To get out and recover from its effects, educational institutions will need to invest in additional resources or services.

Precautionary Measures against DDoS Attacks

Some of the ways to prevent a DDoS attack are to implement measures that involve traffic filtering, load balancing, and content delivery networks (CDNs). They aim to assist the users to distribute traffic and prevent overwhelming any one resource or server. All educational institutions are advised to have an effective incident response plan to quickly act against such attacks to mitigate the risks as much as they can.

Insider Threats

Any threat of security that is being posed by an individual within the company, such as staff members and employees, lies under the term insider threats. Staff members can intentionally or unintentionally compromise sensitive information or network security.

This type of threat includes downloading any software without authenticating it first and it turns out to be malware. It can also be sharing login credentials with unauthorized individuals.

Precautionary Measures against Insider Threats

Educational institutes must implement access controls. They must monitor network activity to detect any unauthorized access. They must update the security policies and procedures regularly.

Note: If you are someone who manages or operates an educational organization, and you are not familiar with these threats and the precautionary measures against them, then don’t worry. There’s always a way you can make sure that stay protected against such attacks. 

For instance, you can go for third-party cybersecurity services or go for outsourced cybersecurity providers. This can be costly, but it’s better than nothing. Remember, in this technical era, having good practices and such precautionary measures is a must.

Cyber Threats for Students

Students can be a weak link in the education industry. They can become a prime target for cybercriminals. Phishing techniques can be used to pose something as “fun”, authentic, or motivational pop-ups, taking them directly to the harmful sites.

For instance, a link can be sent posing as a notification stating a winner's prize to students and luring them to unwanted sites and software. 

With the use of AI and ML, cybercriminals are coming up with intelligent and adaptive software. They are even more dangerous as they are designed to travel through different devices and networks. 

These sophisticated attacks can infect computers, smartphones, tablets, and back-office systems, posing a significant risk to students' digital privacy and physical safety.

College Identity Theft

College identity theft is a specific threat that affects the current generation of college students, who use technology more frequently than their seniors. College identity theft can lead to significant financial losses and can damage students' academic and personal lives. So students must be aware of identity theft and take steps to prevent it.

Apart from cyber threats, there are also physical threats that students need to be aware of. Certain areas of Colombia have been identified by the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) as having a threat of kidnappings, which can either be for ransom or for political reasons involving capture and torture. Even personnel from the U.S. Consulate are advised to be vigilant when traveling in these regions due to the potential danger.

Again, it all comes down to having good precautionary measures for every unfortunate situation. The management should take responsibility for training both the staff and students.

Relevant Laws and Rights

We have put together some of the relevant laws and rights that impact cybersecurity in education

Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)

It’s a US federal law that aims to protect the privacy of student education records. This particular law provides parents with certain rights to access and control their children’s education records.

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

It’s a European Union regulation that maintains and protects the collection, use, and storage of personal data. This data also includes the data collected by educational institutes. 

There are some other relevant laws and regulations as well, for instance, data privacy laws, industry-specific regulations, and data breach notification laws. All educational institutions must comply with these laws and regulations to ensure that all the requirements from a cybersecurity perspective are fulfilled. They must follow cybersecurity practices that meet the necessary standards.

Key Compliance Frameworks for Education

Compliance Frameworks feature all the necessary guidelines and standards that an organization will need to establish and maintain cybersecurity protocols. When it comes to the education sector, common key compliance includes frameworks like the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), ISO/IEC 27001, and the Center for Internet Security (CIS) Controls

Such frameworks are designed to help organizations establish a baseline for their cybersecurity practices and identify areas of improvement.

Compliance Challenges in Education

Achieving cybersecurity compliance is not easy, especially for non-tech-savvy people. The challenges that an educational institute may come across include complex IT environments, a lack of cybersecurity knowledge, and limited budgets and resources. Requirements of compliance keep updating and changing, which makes it somewhat difficult for the institutions to keep up.

Methods and Strategies for Achieving Compliance

Some of the best methods that educational institutes can use include conducting regular risk assessments, and implementing technical controls like firewalls and intrusion detection systems. Some other techniques are already mentioned above such as training staff members and developing incident response plans.

But again, you will be able to do all of these if you are familiar with complex IT environments. All of these methods should be better done by IT and cybersecurity experts. It’s their job, it’s what they are trained to do. Hiring professionals will allow you to focus on more important aspects of your education business.

Case Studies: Examples of Cybersecurity Incidents in Education

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Health (2015)

A hacker gained access to the UCLA Health system compromising the data of 4.5 million patients and employees. The attack was initiated through a “spear-phishing” email posing as an authentic resource which tricked an employee into giving his login credentials.

This breach resulted in the theft of sensitive, personal, and healthcare information and it cost the university millions of dollars to recover. 

Baltimore County Public Schools (2020)

There was a ransomware attack on the Baltimore County Public Schools system. It forced the district to shut down its network for days, resulting in disrupting classes and leaving thousands of students unable to access remote learning resources. This too resulted in engaging in a phishing email that allowed the malware to infect the network.

This attack caused a significant loss in productivity. Financials, trust, and reputation.

Lessons Learned

These case studies showcase the importance of employee training and awareness. Educational institutes need to update their online security protocols and vulnerability assessments regularly. They should have backups and disaster recovery plans.

Future of Cybersecurity in Education

It’s very beneficial if one knows the future trends in IT and cybersecurity. In the education sector, cybersecurity will be updated and shaped by emerging trends and technologies. Some key areas of IT development in the future that you should know are as follows.

Emerging Trends and Technologies in Cybersecurity for Education

The leading emerging trend in cybersecurity is the increased use of cloud-based solutions. It’s no doubt that cloud-based systems can provide enhanced security measures, such as data encryption, multi-factor authentication, and automatic software updates. 

Cloud-based security solutions, such as Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services (AWS), provide enhanced security features and scalability for educational institutions.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML)

Another trend is the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to enhance cybersecurity. ML algorithms can be used to detect any irregularities, anomalies, and patterns that may indicate a cyber attack. They can also be used to automate incident response.

AI/ML-based security solutions, such as Darktrace and Cylance, use algorithms to detect and respond to cyber threats in real-time.

Opportunities for Innovation and Growth

New tools and technologies can be developed to address emerging threats and challenges, such as the growing use of mobile devices and the Internet of Things (IoT) in education. Additionally, new educational programs can be developed to train cybersecurity professionals with the specialized skills needed to protect educational institutions from cyber threats.

Blockchain-based security solutions, such as Learning Machine and Sony Global Education, use blockchain technology to secure educational records and credentials.

Additionl Resources for Cybersecurity in Schools and Education

SchoolSafety.gov

Protect your school against cyber threats. K-12 schools in the United States are facing a growing number of cyberattacks, particularly during the shift to remote and virtual learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These attacks aim to compromise school computer systems, resulting in slower access and, in some cases, causing the systems to become completely unusable.

Cybersecurity Education & Career Development | CISA

Professionals with specialized cybersecurity training are vital for safeguarding the security of individuals, businesses, and the nation as a whole. As such, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has made it a priority to develop an adequately skilled cybersecurity workforce through the standardization of job roles and the training of competent workers, building a solid foundation of cyber leaders to meet the cybersecurity demands of today and the future.

National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE) | NIST

The goal of the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE) is to inspire, advocate for, and facilitate collaboration among various individuals and organizations to enhance a synergistic environment that promulgates cybersecurity education, training, and workforce growth.

U.S. Department of Education - Office of Educational Technology

Various departments within the organization offer a plethora of cybersecurity resources to its users. This webpage serves as a central hub for communicating this information and consolidating available resources pertaining to cybersecurity. It is updated periodically to reflect newly added resources and information. Includes Resourcess for K-12 School Systems and Higher Education Institutions.

Student Privacy at the U.S. Department of Education

The U.S. Department of Education is dedicated to safeguarding student privacy rights. As a part of this commitment, they uphold various laws such as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA). They further extend technical support to assist schools and districts in securing student data. To gain a comprehensive understanding of federal laws protecting student data privacy and your rights, please browse through through this resource.

Final Thoughts

The importance of cybersecurity in education cannot be overstated. As we become increasingly reliant on technology to support our learning and daily operations, we must prioritize the security of our systems and data. 

However, this can be a difficult task for educators and administrators who may not have a strong background in technology or cybersecurity. But don't let this discourage you! Many resources are available to help you develop your knowledge and skills in this area. And you can always hire cybersecurity professionals to do the hard work for you.

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