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The Top 3 Cybersecurity Threats Facing Higher Education

Remote learning is convenient, and for many students, ideal. Protecting a university’s networks from hackers is a critical endeavor. Cybersecurity attacks on schools are unfortunately commonplace. In 2019, school cyber attacks tripled from the previous year. The pandemic has pushed more universities to the virtual classroom in 2020. Hackers have a lot of low-hanging fruit to pick and data to exploit. Knowledge is power. Knowing the top higher education cyber attacks used on schools is the first step toward protecting your organization from cyber threats.


1. Phishing cybersecurity attacks on schools

Phishing is a common technique hackers use to steal sensitive data. Anyone can be a victim of phishing, especially if they don’t know what to look for. When it comes to phishing attacks on schools, a faculty member or student is tricked into giving away private information, login credentials, or money.

What happens is a cybercriminal sends students or staff a fake email with a fraudulent link that’s designed to look legit. The link could be asking the recipient to log in to a specific website to update their contact information, banking information, or other critical data.

While the email looks and sounds legit at first glance, upon closer inspection, recipients will notice the web address may be misspelled by one or two letters. Or the logo of the company the email is supposed to be from maybe slightly off with a different color shade or font.

The scammer has access to private information and data if someone falls for the scam and enters their information via the fake link. Cybercriminals can use this data to commit other crimes. They may steal money from the victim, or impersonate a faculty member to solicit donations.

2. Data Breaches

Out of all the digital threats facing universities, cyber attacks in the form of data breaches account for half. These schemes are so popular because a successful data breach offers cybercriminals a bonanza of lucrative information.

In a data breach scheme, hackers gain access to a school’s network, typically through a third party vendor or partner. Once inside the network, cybercriminals have a field day accessing names, birthdays, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, and even social security numbers of students and staff. A data breach can seriously harm a university’s reputation, and can even end an enterprise.

3. Ransomware

Ransomware can be introduced through malware or phishing and often results in a costly business interruption. Data held during a ransomware attack can be many things, like lesson plans, financial records, or personal records. In a ransomware scheme, hackers deny the organization access to its network and hold it hostage until a ransom has been paid. Universities are forced to shut down during a ransomware attack.

For a university, ransomware attacks don’t give them many options for recovery. The most effective way to reduce the risks of a ransomware attack is to have properly configured backups in place. Ideally, those backups should be stored offsite, where hackers can’t access the data. If backups haven’t been stored, then the university only has one recourse to regain access to its network — pay the ransom.

Cyber attacks on higher education: The bottom line

Ransomware attacks, data breaches, and phishing schemes can cost universities thousands of dollars. These attacks disrupt operations and can tarnish the organization’s reputation. Fortunately, there are many things schools can do to protect against a data breach:

  • Storing backups offsite
  • Keeping device software up-to-date
  • Knowing how to recognize phishing emails before clicking

But hackers are sophisticated and agile. Even with the best security in place, a school can still be attacked or have operations disrupted. In these instances, having an incident response plan in place is critical.

Incident response plans give IT staff a blueprint to work from in the event of a cyberattack, data loss, or service outage. The plan enables staff to quickly detect and fix security failures. Each plan is tailored to the organization it intends to protect. An incident response plan can include:

  • Responsibilities for IT staff
  • Data recovery and network recovery lists
  • Communication protocols
  • Online instruction continuity plans
  • A list of protective resources, tools, or technologies to deploy

More than 77% of organizations don’t have an incident response plan. With cybersecurity attacks happening every 39 seconds, it’s critical to protect your organization.

We’ve been helping higher education organizations protect their networks from data breaches and loss for decades. Signup with us today to discuss your network needs for a tailored incident response plan.

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