As organisations across the world contend with an increasing number of cyberattacks, schools and higher learning institutions are looking for innovative and cost-effective ways to protect their students, staff and data from breaches and ransomware.
“Unfortunately, cybercriminals don’t consider the ramifications of cyberattacks on schools. However, increasing cybersecurity awareness and allocating resources effectively can help the education sector become less attractive targets for cybercrime,” says Steve Flynn, sales and marketing director at ESET Southern Africa.
From the University of Mpumalanga experiencing an attack on its bank accounts, to the University of Johannesburg accidentally leaking a student’s personal information to their e-mail database, and Harvard University having to dismiss all hybrid classes after a ransomware attack compromised its network, breaches and cyberattacks can affect schools and universities irrespective of size or prestige.
A challenging sector to secure
This highlights the need for improved cybersecurity measures in the education sector to protect sensitive data and ensure the safety of students and staff, as well as the integrity of the institution’s digital assets and reputation. However, this is not easily achieved. The education sector faces numerous cybersecurity challenges, including:
- Limited budgets: Limited budgets and resources make it difficult to implement robust cybersecurity measures.
- Diverse IT infrastructure: Including legacy systems and a wide variety of devices used by students, faculty and staff, which makes it challenging to secure the network.
- Human error: The education sector relies on human interaction, which makes it particularly vulnerable to social engineering attacks like phishing scams.
- Student privacy: Handling a significant amount of student data, including personally identifiable information and academic records, makes educational institutions a prime target.
- Lack of cybersecurity awareness: Students, faculty and staff may not be aware of the cybersecurity risks and how to protect against them, making them more susceptible.
The real costs of cybersecurity
While the cost of cybersecurity measures seems prohibitive to schools and universities operating on tight, often nonexistent budgets, it is important to point out that the cost of doing nothing is always regrettably higher. Nicolaas Liebenberg, operations manager at Sisonke Solutions (ESET partner in the education sector), says: “Cyberattacks in the education sector can be costly both in financial and reputational terms. The exact cost can vary depending on the type of attack, the severity of the breach and the size of the institution affected.”
Given the potential costs of cyberattacks on the education sector, it is critical for institutions to prioritise cybersecurity measures to protect sensitive data and ensure the continuity of operations. Various measures to enhance cybersecurity should be taken, including encouraging regular password updates and implementing strong password policies that promote complex and unique passwords. Schools and governments can educate staff and students about cybersecurity best practices, implement multifactor authentication for accessing sensitive data and systems, and regularly update their software and security systems to protect against known vulnerabilities.
They can also back up their data regularly to prevent data loss in case of a cyberattack or other data loss event. Furthermore, organisations can enhance their security measures by implementing access controls to restrict access to confidential information and critical system to authorised personnel only. “While such steps are essential in protecting schools and universities, using a reputable cybersecurity provider is possibly the most effective step that can be taken to prevent cyberattacks,” says Liebenberg.
Cybersecurity – an unavoidable necessity
“Although cybersecurity is often a grudge purchase for organisations, it should be viewed as a necessary investment. With this sector’s growing vulnerability in mind, ESET offers a generous discount to educational institutions, as well as free training guides* for educators and learners on how to be safer online,” explains Flynn. There are several products that have proven instrumental in meeting the cybersecurity needs of the education sector, including:
- Endpoint security: Secure endpoints, such as laptops and mobile devices, from malware, phishing, and other threats.
- Secure authentication: Provides two-step authentication for remote access to networks and applications to secure against unauthorised access and social engineering attacks.
- Dynamic threat defence: ESET’s cloud-based solution provides proactive protection against zero-day threats and advanced malware.
“Cybersecurity has become a critical concern for educational institutions in this digital age. With the increasing amount of sensitive data stored and processed by institutions, it’s important to take steps to protect students and institutions so that learning can continue without disruption. Ultimately, investing in cybersecurity measures can help educational institutions protect their digital assets and safeguard the privacy of their students and staff,” says Flynn.
Free training guides
*ESET offers free training guides:
- For educators: Free, user-friendly online cybersecurity training covering the biggest cyber concerns: eset.com/int/business/cybersecurity-training.
- For learners: To educate children on how to be safer online, schools can download activities from ESET’s website: eset.com/en-us/schools.
For more than 30 years, ESET has been developing industry-leading IT security software and services to protect businesses, critical infrastructure and consumers worldwide from increasingly sophisticated digital threats. From endpoint and mobile security to endpoint detection and response, encryption and multifactor authentication, ESET’s high-performing, easy-to-use solutions unobtrusively protect and monitor 24/7, updating defences in real time to keep users safe and businesses running without interruption. Evolving threats require an evolving IT security company that enables the safe use of technology. This is backed by ESET’s R&D centres worldwide, working in support of our shared future. For more information, visit www.eset.com/za or follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.
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