Tuesday, May 16th, 2023
Cybersecurity Challenges facing the Education sector in 2023
Educational institutions rely heavily on technology to deliver effective learning experiences. However, this increased reliance on technology also exposes the education industry to various cybersecurity challenges. As educational institutions collect, store, and process vast amounts of sensitive data, it becomes crucial to address these challenges to ensure the privacy and security of students, staff, and intellectual property.
According to the UK Government Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, over 60% of higher education institutions reported experiencing breaches or attacks each week in 2022.
Here are some of the main cybersecurity challenges facing the education industry in 2023:
1. Data Breaches
Educational institutions are particularly vulnerable to ransomware attacks due to the large amount of personal identifiable information (PII) and valuable research data they hold. Data breaches can lead to identity theft, financial fraud, and reputational damage for both the institution and individuals affected. Preventing unauthorized access through strong access controls, encryption, and regular security audits is essential.
Additionally, institutions may face legal and financial consequences if they are unable to restore services promptly. To prevent these attacks, institutions need to ensure that all systems are up to date and that all employees and students are trained on how to recognise and avoid potential threats.
Only last week, we saw Bl00dy Ransomware Gang target the education industry in the United States by exploiting a critical vulnerability in PaperCut servers. The gang gained access to vulnerable servers and conducted data exfiltration and encryption of victim systems. They left ransom notes demanding payment for decryption of encrypted files.
More attacks like these can be expected to take place over the next few months.
2. DDOS Attacks
DDoS attacks can disrupt the availability of online educational resources, including websites, learning management systems, and virtual classrooms. These attacks overwhelm a network or system with an excessive volume of traffic, rendering it inaccessible to legitimate users. Implementing DDoS mitigation solutions, traffic monitoring, and redundancy measures in place can help minimize the impact of such attacks.
DDoS attacks on the education sector can be motivated by various factors, including political, ideological, or simply seeking to cause disruption. They can be carried out by individuals or organized groups using botnets, which are networks of compromised computers or devices.
To mitigate the impact of DDoS attacks, educational institutions can employ various measures, including implementing robust network security protocols, utilizing traffic filtering and load balancing solutions, and partnering with DDoS mitigation service providers. Regular monitoring and incident response plans are also crucial for minimizing the impact of such attacks and ensuring swift recovery.
3. Phishing and social engineering attacks
Phishing attacks target students, staff, and faculty members who often have access to valuable data and systems. These attacks typically involve fraudulent emails, instant messages, or malicious websites designed to mimic legitimate institutions, services, or individuals. Phishing emails may appear to come from trusted sources such as administrators, IT departments, or even fellow students.
The primary goal of these attacks in the education industry is to obtain login credentials, such as usernames and passwords, which can then be used to gain unauthorized access to sensitive systems, student records, financial information, or intellectual property. Additionally, attackers may seek to distribute malware or ransomware by tricking users into opening malicious attachments or clicking on malicious links.
To combat phishing attacks, educational institutions should implement robust email security measures, such as spam filters and email authentication protocols. User awareness training is also crucial to educate students, staff, and faculty about phishing techniques, warning signs, and best practices for identifying and responding to suspicious emails or messages.
4. Insider Threat
Insider incidents will be a factor in a third of data breaches making it one of the major threats facing the industry this year. Caused by a combination of remote working and the fear of job loss, and the ease with which data can be moved. Untrained employees are a challenge faced by all companies in the education industry.
Insider threats can take several forms, such as:
- Unauthorized disclosure of sensitive information: Insiders may intentionally or inadvertently disclose confidential data, including student records, financial information, or intellectual property.
- Data theft or sabotage: Insiders may steal or manipulate data for personal gain or to harm the institution. This can include altering grades, tampering with research findings, or disrupting systems.
- Unauthorized access and abuse of privileges: Insiders with elevated privileges may abuse their access rights to bypass security measures, gain unauthorized access to sensitive areas or information, or misuse resources.
- Social engineering: Insiders can use social engineering techniques to deceive or manipulate others within the institution to gain access to sensitive information or systems.
Damage from insider sources can be hard to detect because these threats encompass a wide range of behaviours and motives. It could be an employee attempting to disrupt operations, looking to earn extra cash by selling data, or a well-intentioned employee who simply sidesteps a company policy to save time. Insider threats bring with them unique security challenges. These challenges stem from the fact that these threats are created by insiders in plain sight. As a result they are extremely difficult to detect.
5. SQL Injections
SQL injections are a serious cybersecurity threat to educational institutions. They occur when an attacker inserts malicious code into a SQL statement, often through a web form or input field, tricking the database into executing the code. This can result in the attacker gaining unauthorised access to sensitive data, such as student or staff personal information, financial data, or research and development data. SQL injections can also lead to the compromise of the entire database system, potentially rendering the system unusable or causing data loss.
In the context of educational institutions, SQL injections can have a significant impact on the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of institutional data. For example, if student records are compromised, this can lead to identity theft, financial fraud, or reputational damage to the institution. Additionally, research data may be stolen or tampered with, potentially affecting academic careers and collaborations.
To prevent SQL injections, educational institutions should ensure that their web applications and input fields are properly validated and sanitised to prevent the execution of malicious code. Regular vulnerability assessments and penetration testing can also help identify and mitigate vulnerabilities before they can be exploited. Institutions need to stay up to date with the latest security patches and software updates to prevent known vulnerabilities from being exploited. Finally, education and awareness among staff and students can also help to prevent SQL injections and other cybersecurity threats.
6. IoT Attacks
IoT (Internet of Things) attacks can also be a cybersecurity challenge for education institutes. These devices such as smart boards, security cameras, and other connected devices are increasingly being used in educational institutions to improve learning, security, and facilities management. However, these devices can also be vulnerable to cyber-attacks.
Hackers can target IoT devices to gain access to an institution’s network, steal sensitive data, or launch DDoS attacks. Additionally, as many IoT devices are designed with security as a secondary concern, they can be easy targets for cybercriminals. For example, hackers can exploit unpatched vulnerabilities in these devices or use default login credentials to gain unauthorised access.
To mitigate these risks, educational institutions must ensure that all IoT devices are properly secured and monitored and that they are only connected to secure networks. Regular vulnerability assessments and penetration testing can help identify weaknesses in IoT devices and ensure that they are patched and updated with the latest security patches. Finally, it is essential to ensure that all IoT devices are being used in compliance with privacy laws and regulations to prevent any potential legal or regulatory consequences.
It has never been more important to have the right security measures in place.
Prevention will always be the number one. To take a cybersecurity prevention approach, education institutions need to start by instilling a culture in which security is everyone’s responsibility. This includes implementing training programs to educate employees about potential threats and ways to avoid putting the organisation at risk. Furthermore, they need to implement cybersecurity tools and technologies that identify threats and prevent them from becoming a reality.
Failure to detect and respond to an attack could be detrimental. Many education institutions lack the resources, staff and expertise to effectively implement 24/7 security operations on their own. MDR services add 24/7 threat monitoring, detection and response capabilities to security operations capabilities.