The majority of today’s schools are connected online and are facing the same cyber security dilemma as other businesses. Even when school districts and universities have massive budgets, they often fall short of having the right security measures in place to protect sensitive data. Hackers see limited security capabilities as an open invitation for quick profit, whether they’re after financial information or anything else they can use for identity theft purposes.
In the education field, not all cyber attacks have the intent of stealing sensitive data. In 2015, hackers launched Denial of Service (DoS) attacks on public schools in Miami just as thousands of students were about to take new standardized tests. When students reached the writing portion of the Florida Standards Assessment, they fell upon blank, white screens after a testing vendor’s login server was targeted. Although attacks like these aren’t designed to steal information, it’s clear that they can be just as disruptive. In the age of technology, cyberattacks can be the equivalent of pulling the fire alarm to avoid a test. Check out the infographic beside for a few more examples of recent school cyber attacks, and to see how technology in education has evolved.
When hackers gain access to a school’s network, it’s safe to say that the results are never good. The good news is that with a few safeguards in place, data loss and disruptions like the one mentioned above can be avoided. Let’s take a look at a few ways to make school networks less attractive targets for hackers.
1. Establish a strong BYOD Policy
In the era of laptops, smartphones, tablets, and even smart watches, the majority of today’s students have access to some form of connected device or another. Many schools embrace this and incorporate mobile computing into the standard curriculum. It’s even common for educational institutions to issue mobile devices to be used for schoolwork. It’s commonplace that schools allow students to connect their devices to the internet through their network, but it also raises concerns. Establishing a firm “bring your own device” (BYOD) policy can help manage the risk of data breach when tech-savvy students have access to school networks.
As part of a BYOD policy, many school districts segregate administrative and guest networks. Implementing a “guest” network for students, visitors, and even some staff members to connect to with their devices works well because it keeps sensitive data on the administrative network and also makes traffic much easier to monitor according to how a BYOD policy defines secure internet usage.
2. Protect school-owned technology when it’s offsite
We’ve all grown accustomed to using mobile computing devices while on-the-go, and education staff is no exception. Teachers are typically given laptops for home use, whether it be for grading schoolwork or researching for in-class material, and some even travel with their laptops to conventions. When users connect to wireless hotspots in hotels, cafes, airports, or less-than-secure home networks, they are no longer protected from whichever security measures their school may have in place. Most people don’t carefully monitor their browsing or usage habits, and all this unmonitored offsite connectivity increases risk immensely. There’s the chance that the laptops themselves contain sensitive data and are likely to get hacked on open networks, or they could more easily come back to connect to the school network chock full of viruses or other malware.
Remote filtering technology is a way to protect laptops and mobile devices when they’re being used on other networks than the school’s. With remote filtering, all registered devices are forced to connect to the internet through a web security gateway. This ensures that web traffic from these devices is subject to the web access and security policies of the organization, no matter where somebody logs on. It’s a relatively inexpensive option that could save schools from many potential headaches.
3. Upgrade the way you send files
The most widely used method of sending and receiving student records and other sensitive data is email. While there are highly secure email servers that some schools may wish to opt for, this still doesn’t eliminate the fact that hackers still have ways to access data via phishing scams. Hackers often pose as legitimate senders and use phishing emails that trick individuals into providing access to sensitive information. In a recent example of phishing, a Canadian university was defrauded for $11.8 million when hackers posed as a construction company requesting updated banking info.
Incorporating a secure file exchange solution into your network environment guarantees that sensitive data like student records, banking information, etc. gets to the right recipient. Using features such as two-factor authentication (2FA), all file transfers require user authentication on both ends. When incorporated into a security policy, banks, parents, healthcare organizations and other schools who are on the receiving end of sensitive file transmissions are required to quickly and easily authenticate themselves before any data downloads or uploads take place. Nobody can therefore pose as anybody else and school data remains safe.
Want to find out more about solutions that can take your school’s data governance to the next level? Speak with an expert today to learn more!