Cybersecurity used to be a concern exclusive for big companies and professionals, but now cybercriminals are also targeting smaller businesses and individuals, including students.
There is a lot of sensitive information being circulated in educational spaces (schools, colleges, etc.), making students a prime target for cybercriminals to harvest valuable data and perform various attack vectors like identity theft and digital fraud.
Here, we will discuss the importance of cybersecurity for students, and how it is changing education.
Why Cybercriminals Target Students
According to a late 2020 report by Checkpoint, the number of cyber-attacks on educational and research institutions has grown by 30%, compared to a mere 6.5% average increase across all industries. Part of the reason is that students have been forced to study from home throughout the COVID-19 quarantine period while maintaining a constant internet connection with the educational institution. However, even before COVID-19, education institutions, especially higher education institutions like universities were already vulnerable.
Educational institutions are typically required to store vast amounts of sensitive information (student’s, staff’s, etc.), and this sensitive information is required to be readily available at all times. This is why these institutions are particularly vulnerable to data breaches and other cyber-attacks.
The most common type of cyber-attack vectors in educational institutions is ransomware, where the attacker infects the victim’s (student’s) device with malware, which in turn will affect the educational institution’s system, paralyzing it. The attacker will then ask the institution to pay a ransom before they’ll release the system, or alternatively, the attacker may also steal confidential information and threaten to release it until the institution pays a ransom. Throughout 2020, ransomware attacks on education institutions have increased by a whopping 700+% compared to 2019.
Another important factor to consider is that many education institutions, especially those reliant on public funding, may not have the required budget to implement proper cybersecurity infrastructure. However, even if the school/college does have the budget, educational institutions’ systems have to consider that they’ll need to always be accessible to their students and the network might be regularly accessed by thousands of students every single day. Thus, implementing cybersecurity can be extremely difficult, considering different students may access the school’s network using different (unsecured) devices every time.
Last but not least, is the important concern of human errors. According to the latest studies, only 30% of educational staff and faculty use an antivirus on their devices, and only 29% are using VPNs when accessing public networks. With educators nowadays continuously accessing online public platforms like Zoom and Google Met, this will translate into amplified vulnerabilities.
How Is Cybersecurity Threats Changing Education
In general, we have to consider new approaches in keeping students safe, which have significantly changed cybersecurity approaches in education:
Schools adopting newer technologies
Educational institutions are now forced to adopt new technologies and teaching methods to protect themselves and their students from imminent cyber-attacks. Educational facilities must now keep up with the latest cybersecurity trends and continuously adapt. Adoption of advanced cybersecurity solutions like antivirus, advanced credential stuffing mitigation solutions like Datadome, and other solutions are now viewed as a necessity.
Regular cybersecurity training for faculty
More and more schools are now taking proactive steps to protect themselves, especially by ensuring regular staff and faculty training for cybersecurity awareness.
Security awareness education for students
Apart from educating staff and faculties, many educational facilities have now taken steps to educate their students about cybersecurity threats by organizing various workshops, seminars, and cybersecurity projects.
Smart access control
Although educational facilities are supposed to be easily accessible, the growing cybersecurity threats have forced the institutions to implement stricter and smarter authorization protocols. For example, many schools are now implementing two-factor authentication on their sites before users can access their resources.
Various cybersecurity threats are now targeted at students and educational facilities, forcing educators and institutions on taking drastic measures in keeping their students safe online, while at the same time protecting the institution’s network and system from data breaches and other threats.