Following the recent ransomware attack on the Harris Federation, affecting 50 primary and secondary academies in London, cybersecurity experts reacted below.
<p style=\"font-weight: 400;\">Schools and the education sector have had a rough ride over the last 6 months and not just because they have largely turned their focus to online learning. As with any target, attackers have set out against the vulnerable, and with relatively little force they have been able to penetrate weak systems – often bringing them to a standstill. Such demands are rarely close to the large ransoms put up against big corporations, but threat actors research those who are likely to pay or have little choice in it.</p> <p style=\"font-weight: 400;\"> </p> <p style=\"font-weight: 400;\">The best that the education sector can offer is openness and communication. Clarity helps people understand the situation and then learn from any mistakes along the way. Schools must take stock of these attacks and realise these are not one-offs, rather a series of well-planned attacks where anyone could be the next victim. Schools need to monitor their unsolicited emails, double check their protection on their most valuable data, and have their IT support test their restore functionalities.</p>
<p>Any last vestiges of a false sense of security by anyone – if there is anyone – who still thought that they had a nice perimeter around their IT environment are gone. With the pandemic, the bad guys are taking advantage of the current lack of control caused by a sudden flood of remote devices hitting our networks from practically endless amounts of unknown places because every device hitting your network is an attack vector. So, you need to be able to discover, manage and secure everything using a unified endpoint management approach. Using multiple, disparate tools creates gaps in your IT security foundation. Instead of managing your IT environment, you end up managing management systems. The good news is that these attacks are typically caused by a known exploit for which there has already been a patch available for months or years. Practice good IT vulnerability scanning and patching, and you are much less vulnerable to attack on your organisation’s bottom line and reputation.</p>
<p> The news of the attack on the Harris Federation comes on the heels of last week’s warning from the NCSC of the growing threat to the education sector posed by cybercrime and ransomware in particular. During this pandemic, we have seen a nearly 600% rise in malicious attacks worldwide targeting schools and universities, offices, government departments, and hospitals. This reflects the growing number and sophistication of cyberattacks and ransomware over the last year, as shown in our latest 2021 Threat Report. </p> <p><br /> <br />To ensure the continuity of education, especially in the context of remote learning, we encourage the government to consider the impact on individuals’ wellbeing and ensure security, productivity, and user experience. If these devices become infected with a virus or malware, they can expose sensitive personal information that students share during the learning process. </p> <p><br /> <br />This should be an alarm bell for the public sector, a demonstration of the need to secure each and every endpoint. Even the smallest chink in the nation\’s digital armour could spell disaster.</p>
<p>This latest ransomware attack should act as a reminder to schools that they remain a strong target for hackers, due to the large amount of high-value personal and financial data they own. Despite the easing of lockdown restrictions, with many students returning to schools, some students are still shielding and will have to connect remotely. With that in mind, schools will need to tighten up on their cybersecurity protection as cyberattacks will become increasingly common and hackers have no regard for who they attack. As IT infrastructure gradually moves to the cloud too, organisations must ensure that how they transfer data is secure and data is stored safely.</p> <p> </p> <p>Schools can’t promise to fight off every attack, but they can look to utilise innovative technology like AI and ML in systems, as well as potentially turning to outside help for expertise. Protecting students and their personal data must be a 24/7 job, as hackers are continuously probing and looking for weaknesses, and it only takes a single vulnerability to enable an attack. It’s not just primary and secondary education facilities that are targets, higher education must stay on its guard too. The whole sector needs to remain alert and ensure it has the right tools to fight off would-be cyber attackers.</p>
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