Education boards, administration, and teachers all face numerous threats while trying to create a safe learning environment for K-12 students. School systems are constantly guarding against intruders from disrupting campus operations, putting students in danger. More than just protecting against physical threats, school systems must now guard against cyber threats. Cyber incidents in school systems can lead to the disruption of the education process by exposing personally identifiable information (PII) of students, teachers, or administrators. As technology becomes more prevalent in school systems, as the virtual learning experience continues to grow, educators must be aware of the threats that linger on the school’s cyber platforms. Here are four of the most common types of online threats facing school systems according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Defense’s Technical Information Center.
A data breach occurs when sensitive, protected information is leaked to cybercriminals. The information is transferred from a secure to an insecure environment where they are copied, transmitted, viewed, stolen, or used in any other unauthorized manner. In school systems, data breaches typically leak students’ records and information to unauthorized users.
Spoofing and phishing use similar methods to extract data in school systems. Spoofing is the dissemination of a forged email that is disguised as a trustable source. Phishing is the act of sending an email falsely claiming to be a legitimate person or organization. Phishing scams typically request users to disclose sensitive information such as passwords, social security numbers, credit card numbers, or bank account information. Phishing campaigns often collect this information through malicious links that are attached within the emails.
Malware is harmful software that can damage or disable a computer or an entire system of computers. Malware is typically disguised as legitimate software from file sharing, opening an email attachment, or clicking on a link. A specific type of malware known as scareware uses the anxiety or fear of users through social engineering campaigns to deceive victims into buying malicious software. These attacks can be extremely effective in a school system as students operating on the network will often be afraid of accidentally installing a virus, leading them to overcorrect and click on malware disguised as antivirus software. Faculty are highly encouraged to always monitor the activity of students, and students should never install or download
anything to a school computer unless they are directly instructed to do so from proper
One of the most effective types of malware is ransomware. This is when cybercriminals use phishing campaigns and other social engineering methods to gain access to classified documents and files. The hacker then encrypts the files, and demands payment in exchange for the stolen data. Cybercriminals often demand payment in the form of virtual currency such as bitcoin. Teachers and students should be advised not to respond to these attacks, and school administration should be informed immediately. From there, school officials should act in accordance with the school board’s breach response plan.
Data breaches, phishing attacks, malware, and ransomware are just four of the many cyber threats that put students, teachers, and administrators at risk. It’s important for the board of every school system to develop a strong cybersecurity plan by helping the staff and students see the key role they play in maintaining the safety of everyone in the school system. Cybersecurity training, education, and awareness are essential for everyone from board members down to students. Filling every gap ensures that cybercriminals are unable to attack and disrupt the flow of education.
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