Following the NCSC’s warning around targeted ransomware attacks on the UK education sector, experts commented below.
<p>It comes as no surprise that in the past month the NCSC has issued fresh new guidance and support to the educational sector following the immense increase in ransomware attacks in the first few months of this year.</p> <p> </p> <p>Industries such as the education sector are often considered “low hanging fruit” to cyber criminals because, while these types of organisations rely heavily on data, cyber security is not always their top priority. In today’s world, cyber security needs to be every companies’ top priority! Without an effective enterprise-wide cyber security roadmap, they are directly exposing themselves to serious financial and reputational risk. Neither of which any business wants or needs.</p> <p> </p> <p>As we’ve said before, the best way to protect against ransomware attacks is having a tested secure backup strategy that can help restore any data that may have been ransomed. But, since prevention is better than cure, it is even more important that this data does not get into the wrong hands to begin with. So, by implementing good patching practices, ensuring your network is secure, and training your staff on the risks involved with phishing emails, you will be in a much better position to thwart these attacks altogether.</p>
<p>The latest <a href=\"https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/news/support-for-uk-education-sector-after-growth-in-cyber-attacks\" target=\"_blank\" rel=\"noopener\" data-saferedirecturl=\"https://www.google.com/url?q=https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/news/support-for-uk-education-sector-after-growth-in-cyber-attacks&source=gmail&ust=1616756990904000&usg=AFQjCNEADfTfQFHaKUWakaPjO-l3l1r-uQ\">warning</a> from the NCSC is yet another signal 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 <a href=\"https://www.blackberry.com/us/en/products/resource-center/reports/2021-threat-report\" target=\"_blank\" rel=\"noopener\" data-saferedirecturl=\"https://www.google.com/url?q=https://www.blackberry.com/us/en/products/resource-center/reports/2021-threat-report&source=gmail&ust=1616756990904000&usg=AFQjCNFJRpWx44AGjw5e_mDgIp4jzmSvXQ\">2021 Threat Report</a>. </p> <p> </p> <p>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> </p> <p>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 nations digital armour could spell disaster.</p>
<p>The use of various technological solutions by teaching practitioners to enhance the delivery of key concepts has been common place in education for many years. However, this has been especially necessary over the last year where the education sector have been using it to help adapt to school closures and government COVID-19 guidelines.</p> <p><br />Now, as educational bodies transition back to in person learning, the NCSC’s latest findings show that cybercriminals have been utilising this opportunity to their advantage. It is, therefore, vital that educational institutions are doing all they can to protect themselves.</p> <p><br />A good place to start is by reviewing existing IT and data protection policies and conducting an audit of assets – both software and hardware, to ensure no important areas are neglected and software this parched and up-to-date. I would also encourage education institutions to roll out mandatory cybersecurity awareness training to inform both students and staff of the role they can play in preventing such attacks as well as reinforcing the layered approach to cyber security.</p> <p> </p> <p>Our research shows that ransomware attacks cause an average of three days of system downtime in organisations that are targeted. Such downtime in an educational setting would significantly impact the quality of learning that staff can deliver to students – something that would be very unfortunate especially considering our current circumstances.</p> <p><br />Additionally, since many schools and colleges handle the data of young people and children – this information is sensitive, so the importance of their data being adequately protected is crucial.</p>
<p>Having a regulatory body issuing an alert or something similar is telling enough that there is still work needed to improve the security posture within the education sector. If institutions are not following the advice, we will start seeing something similar to how the health sector was impacted last year.</p> <p> </p> <p>We never thought that health data could help cyber criminals earn money, but that has happened. The same goes for the education sector. Data that may not seem valuable for monetary gain such as student data or proprietary course materials are now at risk of being held hostage for a ransom.</p> <p> </p> <p>Institutions should now heed the call to improve security measures, start implementing better protection methods for any form of data, and start forming and testing response plans in case they are impacted by an attack.</p> <p> </p> <p>Cyber criminals are now very quick and agile in adopting new attack techniques, so educational establishments should not be complacent just because they have followed the mitigation guidelines now. Instead, they should be actively reviewing, monitoring and updating these measures to continuously minimize the attack vector.</p>
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