Education Cybersecurity: What You Need to Know

Published on August 10, 2022  |  Cyberfort Advisors
education cybersecurity

We recently highlighted some of the cybersecurity differentiators across industries, and today we wanted to expand on one of those industries: education.

Education is a vast industry with institutions of all sizes, structures, and cybersecurity threats. Unlike many other professional industries, the inclusion of minors plays a large role in education cybersecurity.

Education cybersecurity has unique differentiators. Cybersecurity in schools is unique in that these systems are full of diverse operating systems, plus the sheer number of devices and users that circulate through the systems.

Here are some best practices and considerations when it comes to education cybersecurity.

Current & Future Threats to Education Cybersecurity

The biggest threats to education cybersecurity include:

  • Phishing
  • Malware
  • Ransomware
  • Spam
  • Social engineering
  • Denial of service (DoS) attacks

Children (and young adults) in the education sector are often given directions for assignments, projects, and test materials via online communication. This means phishing and other similar threats can quickly make their way through dozens of school network computers.

And many of these devices are also taken home and used on a variety of different networks (many of which are unsecured or minimally secured). It’s easy for hackers to gain access through means that don’t ever touch the school’s networks until they’re already inside them.

Spam, phishing emails, and other malware can easily be disguised as an official school email. We teach our children to trust certain adults (and to be wary of others), but school cybersecurity is made more difficult by the fact that most data breaches are caused by user error. And when your users are all children, whose nature is to make mistakes and user errors so they can learn, you have a tough job on your hands trying to protect all of that data and experience.

Education cybersecurity is also hindered by infrastructure – not all schools will have access to the best and most secure technology, routers, and devices. If your school’s computers haven’t been replaced in a while, they create opportunities for hardware updates and software patches being incompatible with their internal operating systems.

Often, young Internet users are engaging with potentially malicious content when they see fun or motivational pop-ups, unrestricted websites, and email, image, and video content and links. These links often look like they are from educators or administrators at their school.

Educational institutions, from pre-K to post-secondary schools, vary widely in their purpose and their needs. Magnet schools, private universities, public elementary schools – while they all fall under the education industry umbrella, the cybersecurity needs of each will be diverse and multi-faceted. This means tailored solutions will be more effective than simple anti-virus and malware software implementation.

Keeping All Children Safe Online: Student Cyber Awareness

Predatory behaviors targeting minors are a continuous threat, and this behavior can be carried out much more easily online. Education cybersecurity also has to combat the vast number of people who are looking to gain access to young teens and children through social media and other online avenues.

Young children are now learning how to use technology and smart devices at a very early age, and that means cybersecurity in schools and on shared learning devices is crucial.

Stranger danger isn’t just at the park or on the walk home anymore. Children can start talking to strangers online before they ever learn how to do long division or ride a bike. And they can do it while they’re sitting on the couch, right next to their siblings and parents.

Data security becomes more about preempting attempts at exploitation and creating barriers that reduce the amount of accidental navigation. We all know someone whose grandma is always jumbling settings on their phone or iPad unknowingly, and it seems harmless and even funny.

But when you give a child such a powerful piece of technology, accidents can create openings for breaches and other malicious activity that could go undetected for weeks, months, or even the entire school year.

Just like a business must educate its employees on how they should be using company tech, schools must devote time to continuous education about cybersecurity best practices, dos and don’ts, and more. Cybersecurity awareness training should be an integral part of the educational curriculum, from elementary school all the way through college and beyond.

Moving Forward: Data Security and Beyond

Education cybersecurity is often dependent on two things: updating the technology that is being used (which isn’t always possible for budgetary reasons) and data security. As we continue to teach and connect with students in hybrid and remote environments, cybersecurity in schools and school settings only becomes more crucial.

It is the responsibility of the schools and parents to keep their students’ data secure. And that means employing top-notch data security technology and expertise within your school’s networks.

CyberFort’s data security solutions are created to prevent data loss, monitor file activity, secure endpoints, monitor user activity (extremely important in schools due to some states having privacy regulations to protect minors’ personal information), and more.