Top 5 Cyber Threats in Higher Education

Educational establishments store an enormous amount of data relating to students, parents and staff, much of which is personally identifiable information (PII). This data may contain highly sensitive information, such as medical conditions, salaries etc.

In addition, schools and colleges are increasingly using technology to enhance teaching and support home / school learning. These combined factors make them vulnerable to cyber security breaches, the consequences of which can be costly to both reputation and finances.

So what are the risks?

The threat landscape in the education sector comprises two distinct types of breach: deliberate and accidental. While it is not possible to remove these risks entirely, taking preventative steps and having a robust response system in place will help protect your organisation. Here are 5 key areas of high risk:

#1 – IT Equipment & Devices

 Many teachers now enhance the classroom experience by using educational software. A breach via IT equipment could be as simple as a laptop left open and logged-in, or a password pinned to a board.

Unintentional though this may be, the consequence could be the divulgence of sensitive data, compromising student safety or staff privacy.

#2 – External source breaches

These most commonly occur via email, where the recipient is caught off-guard or duped into clicking on a link. This could enable the sender to access the IT infrastructure, to download data or to cause operational damage.

A hacker may intend to shut down specific systems, steal funds, or introduce ransomware with the intention of demanding money.

#3 – Deliberate Sabotage

 An individual may deliberately cause a security breach – perhaps a disgruntled staff member or ex-student with a perceived vendetta to settle. It could also be a student hacker who breaks in to the system just to prove they can.

Breaches by any ‘insider’ can be particularly hard to prevent as they may justifiably have login details and passwords for the systems they access with mal-intent.

#4 – Uncontrolled Access

 The number of personnel associated with an educational establishment can make it extremely hard to control who has access to what. This includes: teaching and support staff, students, volunteers and temporary staff and third party personnel.

Ensuring that each individual has the right level of access required, which may frequently change, is no mean feat.

#5 – Guesswork vs. Predictability

 Sometimes hackers succeed because they ‘get lucky’. The harder it is to find leading information or guess login details, the better. Schools and colleges tend to categorise attendees: year groups, classes etc.  This can make guesswork far easier.

It may also be possible to glean the necessary information from social media accounts or the main website.

Mitigating the Risks

It is unrealistic to expect an individual or even in-house team to protect against a cyber, or to monitor activity 24 / 7. We believe that the perfect blend of people, processes and technology is the best way to keep an educational organisation safe and secure.

To talk to us about our affordable, cloud-based security solutions or discuss your organisation’s specific requirements, please get in contact with us.

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