Dec 28, 2020 08:34 PM EST
The Rise in Cyberattacks on Universities and Public School Systems
Educational Institutions have always prioritized safeguarding intellectual property, financial accounts, student records, and employee information acquired and stored with technologies like computing devices and online programs. Yet, as times change, technology evolves, and cybercriminals advance, universities and public schools run into new challenges that leave sensitive information exposed.
Unfortunately, the risk of security breaches only increased at the onset of the global pandemic. Universities, private, and public schools transitioned millions of students and teachers to distance learning. Students and educators would access databases, school systems, online accounts, payroll, and government platforms from home for the first time.
As each person would do so using their own internet connection and computing device, school administrators and IT personnel were unsure how to secure data on various networks, operating systems, and devices.
Why Are Schools So Vulnerable?
Scammers and hackers target universities and public school systems for several reasons. The main reason is for the type of information acquired. From student emails and employee tax documents to proprietary research data and school bank account numbers, cybercriminals find this information useful. Should a hacker break into a university's system and access W-2 forms, fraudulent taxes can be filed. Similarly, a list of student emails creates the perfect opportunity for phishing scams.
Another reason schools are vulnerable, particularly during the pandemic, is the many devices, operating systems, and internet connections in which users access information. A student logging into the school system from an open-source wi-fi account makes it easier for hackers to break into accounts, access passwords, and more. If a school-issued computer is outdated or malfunctions and is discarded or donated without wiping the hard drive, the data can be recovered by someone with ill intentions.
What You Can Do
Now that you realize how vulnerable universities and public school systems are to cyberattacks during the pandemic, you may be wondering what you can do to protect data and enhance security. Continue reading for a few practical solutions.
Education and Training
It is important to remember that teachers and students have varying levels of technological experience. While some are very aware of how to utilize applications while keeping sensitive information secure, others don't have a clue. Administrators and IT personnel can minimize the risk of a security breach by providing training courses and educational tools for teachers and students. Such methods should teach them about cybercrime, how it occurs, how to prevent it, and what to do if something goes wrong.
Instead of allowing students and teachers to use personal computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones to access school networks and accounts, mandate that they use devices provided by the university. This strategy reduces the likelihood of someone other than the user gaining access to the device and stealing data. Advise users not to use the devices for any other purpose or loan it to anyone.
If you don't have enough computing devices to go around, some agencies and programs are donating to schools during the pandemic. As another layer of protection, when devices break down or are no longer efficient, be sure to use hard drive wipe software before donating or disposing of them.
Secure Internet Services
Not every student has access to reliable and secure internet services at home. As a result, they use weak or free internet connections from other sources, making it easy for hackers to break into the school's system. The most efficient way to prevent this from happening would be to ensure that all users have a secure internet connection. Fortunately, many major telecommunication companies are offering quality, fast, and secure services to low-income families.
Since the pandemic, hackers and scammers have been acquiring sensitive information to commit crimes ranging from phishing emails to tax fraud. Unfortunately, universities and public school systems find themselves at the center of this chaos. Unless you want to see your school in the headlines, administrators and IT personnel must take precautions like those listed above to safeguard school, student, and employee data.
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