School IT administrators know that cybersecurity isn’t by any means a new threat. Last year’s WannaCry and Petya attacks were so prominent in news reports that you could barely open your web browser without hearing about how companies were affected. The challenge then, is not so much being aware of cybersecurity as an issue, but staying informed of the types of cybersecurity threats that schools are up against.
Just as technology is a shifting landscape, so too are the ways hackers try to gain access to sensitive information. IT professionals can find it tough to keep their security efforts current, and this article is an attempt to provide at least a little insight.
Here’s a breakdown of a few of the most recent cybersecurity threats that are active in the education sector, along with suggestions on what you can do to prevent any unwanted access to confidential information.
Improve your Link Security
Following guidelines outlined by regulations like FERPA will give you a basic framework for protecting student records. Unfortunately, while understanding the basics of FERPA will give you a general action plan, industry regulations often don’t give you a detailed list of what exactly you’re protecting your sensitive data from.
One of the biggest threats to the vulnerability of your data is direct contact. Ransomware, phishing scams, and other direct routes to data breaches typically have one thing in common: they entice users to click on a link. Cybercriminals are so adept at delivering these malicious links that they are able to closely replicate email addresses, so even the next email from what may appear to be a school district superintendent can lead to a breach.
What you can do: We can’t stress the importance of raising awareness enough. Improving link security starts with educating staff on how to detect suspicious emails, and then implementing best practices where students have network access, such as in your school’s computer lab(s) and BYOD devices.
If your email security settings aren’t administrator controlled, centralize network controls and make sure the school’s email accounts are set-up to filter out phishing, spam emails, and any unrecognized executable files. For an additional layer of protection, shop around for an affordable email scanner that can authenticate anything that comes in.
Update your Technology ASAP
When WannaCry hit last year, businesses across all sectors felt it. The reason it was so widespread was that these businesses were running outdated operating systems missing an important security patch. Not every school district or university has it within their budget to replace laptops, computer hardware, projectors, etc. on a regular basis, but ensuring that your operating systems are up-to-date (versions that are actively supported) is crucial to the security of your data.
What you can do: Depending on the size of your educational institution, ensuring that each and every device is supported by security patches can be a challenge. An IT solution that frequently checks for security updates and also blocks access to potentially harmful apps is a cost-effective way to relieve some of the headache.
Identify IOT Vulnerabilities
The Internet of Things (IOT) is changing the way is changing the way we work, attend school, and interact in general. The term describes devices that are interconnected but don’t necessarily rely on computers to transmit data, including school security cameras, or student and teacher owned devices such as smart watches, or cloud-based voice service devices.
Schools can be at a higher risk of IOT vulnerabilities since students of all ages are typically interested in keeping-up with the latest internet-connected device trends. It can be challenging to identify these devices, but finding a means to do so could make a huge difference in your network security. IOT devices often lack security and may not be considered a threat by those who own them, but you want a clear picture of anything dabbling with your school’s internet connection.
What you can do: Consider authorizing commonly approved devices such as laptops, smartphones and tablets under the security provisions of your main network, while isolating all other devices on a separate Virtual Local Area Network (VLAN) where they can be watched. It may also prove very useful to revisit the list of approved BYOD devices on a regular basis. Be sure to consistently change the password for internet access on your VLAN and all IOT devices.
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