Identifying and Addressing Cybersecurity Vulnerabilities in School Systems

While chalkboards have long felt like relics of bygone eras, you might be shocked at how much classrooms have evolved in the last 10 years. Many textbooks and paper hand-in methods have been replaced by tablets and Chromebooks, plagiarism and cheating are being caught in novel ways, and the classroom is no longer always a physical space–e-learning and digital classrooms are the new standard experience.

As K-12 schools around the country invest in new technology, applications, and teaching, everyone should be on high alert for security threats.

Parents, instructors, and kids are all part of the systems that must be maintained. The combination of at-home learning and a growth in the number of remote employees results in highly linked home networks, shared WiFi connections, as well as a blurring of the lines between acceptable and harmful digital activities.

As Josh Horwitz writes for eSchool News, the linked education era is bringing with it a slew of new security issues. Here are some of the most difficult, as well as suggestions on how educational institutions should effectively address them:

1. Phishing Techniques:

While phishing attempts have existed for decades, fraudsters have evolved more focused and hazardous approaches in recent years.

Hackers frequently construct bogus email accounts imitating school personnel, making them appear genuine by stealing personal information from social network sites. These addresses are then utilized to target students, parents, employees, and other third parties.

Unfortunately for us, fraudsters have also made steps to conduct far more targeted assaults, referred to as ‘spear-phishing’ operations. Bad actors can appear as administrators and K-12 district personnel in positions of financial significance by spoofing the email domain as well as the personal information in an email address. They employ phishing emails to modify financial information, launch a malware assault in the network, or access sensitive information once they receive an email that looks to be from an authoritative figure (either to be used in additional phishing campaigns or sold on to other cybercriminals).

Any of these assault types–whether fund rerouting, ransomware, or data theft–can have a significant financial impact on a school system.

Strategy for Defense:

Schools may take several actions to safeguard their staff, students, and partners against phishing attempts. The first is to ensure that firewalls, anti-virus, and anti-malware software are all up and running; and the second is to enable all MFA options available in in-use browsers. Third, training, information, and phishing warnings should be made available to the district network if at all practicable.

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2. Third-party Concerns

As the epidemic prompted schools to go online, everyone had to quickly adjust to new technologies and external partners. Schools were susceptible nearly overnight due to the large number of pupils with diverse demands and non-standard technologies at home, as well as the haste for teaching to continue. Security was frequently an afterthought in the shift from classrooms to Zoom and Microsoft Teams, giving bad actors a plethora of options to assault the new digital systems Indeed, according to the K-12 Cybersecurity study, at least 75% of data breaches impacting K-12 districts in 2020 would be caused by events involving third-party partners.

3. Human Inadvertence

It is hard to blame all cybersecurity challenges in school districts on the technology in use. Everyone associated with the networks, from principals to students to teachers, is continually, albeit unwittingly, introducing human habits and faults. Password reuse is one of the most widespread bad behaviors, in which people use the same password, or one with a little variation, across several accounts and devices–for example, it’s very possible that some people use their school login credentials for their streaming service as well.

If any of their accounts were hacked in a prior breach, that password is now vulnerable and can be used to target other networks by hackers. As we’ve seen in recent years. Even a single hacked email address might have disastrous consequences.

Defensive Approach:

The most effective way for the school district to stay ahead of the credential issue is to invest in credential screening technologies that check for compromised passwords upon log-in. This enables schools to confirm that no breacher credentials are currently in use without adding user friction or imposing complexity constraints.

While we are all anxious to equip children with cutting-edge technology and chances for academic advancement, school districts must not lose sight of their responsibilities to keep students safe.

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