In July, when the latest Sydney lockdown began, the Department of Education (DoE) announced they would return to remote learning until restrictions eased. The DoE experienced a cyber attack hours after the announcement. Teachers lost access to their email, online learning material and Zoom.

The DoE shut down their systems, and the portals that teachers and students needed were up and running quickly, but the attack highlighted the reality of cyber security for schools. Even as the country opens up again, cyber security for schools must remain a top priority to protect students and staff.

The types of cyber attacks that schools face

Before you implement a solution for enhancing cyber security in your school, you need to know the types of attacks that primarily target schools. 

Phishing attacks are a common tactic leveraged by cyber criminals. Phishing scams are the act of sending emails that appear to be from the school, but in reality, are fraudulent. They might appear as emails to students asking for credentials that provide access to sensitive information. A cyber criminal uses this information to gain access to the target’s computer system or network to steal personal data. Another type of phishing email could be an email requesting tuition payments from parents.

Ransomware attacks are another critical threat against schools. A ransomware attack is when cyber criminals take over your computer and make you pay them money before allowing you to access it. A cyber criminal might use a phishing email to gain access to a school’s data and encrypt it, making it impossible for the school system to get their data back without paying up.

Schools may also experience Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, which are attempts to make a computer or computer network unusable by flooding it with data until the system crashes. 

Why threat actors target schools

Schools represent a tantalising target for cyber attacks because of their wide attack surface with different types of devices that cyber criminals can exploit, such as:

  • Network printers  
  • Routers
  • Computers and laptops 
  • Smartphones and tablets

Educational institutions store a wealth of data on their students. Therefore, data theft is a key reason why cyber security for schools must remain a top priority. Data held by schools often includes phone numbers, email and home addresses, and medical information. Cyber criminals might take advantage of the numerous devices connected to the school network to access these details.

There are many cyber security risks that cyber criminals take advantage of to steal information from schools. Cyber criminals may steal personal and confidential information stored in school computers or attack the students themselves. This information can also be a great source of reconnaissance for collecting information on students’ parents and the corporate institutions they work for. Cyber criminals can then use this data as a backdoor for targeted attacks against them.

Cyber criminals stealing information may plan to use that information for other cyber crimes; for example, they could steal credit card details to make purchases or sell personal data on the black market.

The challenges of cyber security for schools

Schools face several cyber security challenges that cyber criminals can exploit. 

Budget and resource constraints create a significant obstacle to cyber security for schools. The school may need to hire more resources or staff to manage cyber security. Engaging with a managed services provider is one way of overcoming this challenge.

Many schools promote a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) program, allowing students to use personal devices in school. Schools often promote a set of requirements for cyber security measures that ensure the school system’s safety from cyber attacks or any other cyber-related concerns. However, securing so many devices can become a major challenge.

Remote learning has put a bigger target on the back of the education sector. While devices have remained core to student learning for many years, it is one thing to protect a fleet of devices housed on campus and another to secure personal devices scattered across students’ households.

Implementing cyber security for schools

Schools should implement cyber protection at all times to protect against cyber threats such as phishing, malware infections, ransomware and DDoS attacks.

  • Device protection: You can implement cyber security software on laptops, desktops, printers, or tablets.
  • Layered cyber security: Schools would benefit from a layered cyber security approach including a firewall, continuous monitoring of activity on networks, strong authentication methods such as two-factor authentication, and detection software to mitigate potential threats. 
  • Cyber security policies: These encrypt email access and limit access to particular sites, such as social media.
  • Training: Cyber security training in schools should be a priority. With cyber crime organised through social media, it is vital to provide students with cyber safety education so they can recognise attacks such as phishing.

How we can secure your school

We build systems designed to protect devices connected to your school’s network. Our advisory services can help you pinpoint your risks and provide visibility of your cyber security posture. We can implement monitoring systems to notify you of potential threats and provide solutions before they cause damage to your institution.

Visit our Cyber Security page for more information on how we protect your school and your students.