Keeping K-12 schools safe from cyberattacks has become a growing concern for educational institutions, especially as these attacks increase in sophistication and frequency nationwide. This past September, a school district in Detroit was hit with a cyberattack that closed its schools for two days. The Los Angeles Unified School District, the second largest school district in the country, was also subject to an attack over Labor Day weekend, which shut off access to email and crippled the district’s website and critical systems.
These attacks have been a wake-up call to school districts about the risk of cybercrimes and the impacts they can have on operations. But why are cybercriminals drawn to them?
Why Schools Have Increasingly Become the Target for Cybercrime
From online learning portals to HR systems, much of school today takes place digitally. This makes connectivity essential to ensure technology is always working and critical operations aren’t interrupted. A modern school’s function hinges on having constant access to a network, making it a prime target for hackers to exploit any vulnerabilities within the network and issue a total system lockdown.
Another appealing trait of schools to cyber criminals is the wealth of data stored within internal databases. There, student and staff information, including their full names, birthdays, addresses and Social Security numbers, can be found and stolen for nefarious purposes, likely being sold on the dark web or encrypted for a ransom.
While cyberattacks can put sensitive information at risk and bring school operations to a standstill, they can also be costly to remediate. According to a 2021 Comparitech study, ransomware attacks alone on U.S. schools and colleges cost $3.56 billion.
Keeping schools protected against cyber threats is essential now more than ever. Still, with only 14 percent of school districts describing themselves as “very prepared” to deal with a cyberattack, it’s clear that schools need to improve their defenses against cybersecurity issues that may arise, but how?
How to Ensure Your School is Protected
To combat the rising threat of cyberattacks on K-12 schools, districts should implement a proactive approach to cybersecurity. Waiting for an attack to happen can have devastating ramifications. Instead, schools must take action now.
Here are three strategies schools can adopt to help protect their digital learning environments:
Implement Automated DDoS Mitigation
Distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks are the most common type of cyberattacks and the education sector continues to see more of these attacks than any other industry. DDoS attacks occur when an attacker maliciously floods a victim’s internet circuit with fake or illegitimate traffic to prevent true user traffic from passing. Maintaining both a DDoS mitigation and a scrubbing solution is critical to fighting against theseDDoS attacks. These services can proactively scan and analyze a network for threats and remove malicious traffic in real time without disrupting other operations or internet connectivity, which allows schools to embrace a “set it and forget it” mindset. When DDoS mitigation is in the background, schools can resume operations without worrying about losing internet connectivity.
Isolate Potential Threats with Network Traffic Segmentation
The proliferation of cyber threats has made data security increasingly challenging, especially with the growth of remote learning. Smart network design and tools can help isolate security concerns as they arise and improve reporting and visibility across the district’s network. Segmenting network traffic minimizes network design while reducing the attack surface, enabling faster containment options.
Leverage Unified Threat Management for Quick Access to All Security Solutions
Unified threat management is an approach that enables a single point of protection across security functions and ensures that all security solutions work together to protect against internal and external threats. With unified threat management, schools can use a co-management portal to simplify their security infrastructure, making it easier to detect threats at any touchpoint and deploy the proper solutions to combat.
The current education cybersecurity crisis is a problem plaguing K-12 school districts nationwide. It’s not a matter of if a school will be targeted, but when, meaning schools need to prepare now or face costly and irreparable impact. Employing a proactive security strategy can protect schools from cyberattacks and foster an environment where students and staff alike can thrive.
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Michael McKerley joined ENA, now ENA by Zayo, in 2000 as a systems engineer and has served in a variety of roles at ENA by Zayo, most recently as Chief Technology Officer. As President, Michael leads ENA by Zayo’s overall technology solutions portfolio and market strategy. He is proud to have spent most of his career at ENA by Zayo and he is passionate about bringing scalable, reliable, and useful solutions to community anchor institutions across the nation.
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