The great significance of data security in the education system

Educational institutions are just as vulnerable to cybercrime as any other organisations and institutions, so the need for advanced data security has never been greater.

The sensitive nature of personal data stored in education systems makes them a direct target for hackers or individuals aiming at stealing crucial information. It might sound unbelievable, but cyberattacks against educational institutions are not that uncommon, all the more so since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, when more and more schools and higher education institutions (HEIs) have started to conduct their courses online and thus provide students with digital materials.

Educational institutions are responsible for the data safety of their students, some of them minors, but poor cybersecurity infrastructure can seriously endanger their security. So, cybercrimes are threatening not only the institution’s environment and finances but also the students, who are more exposed than ever. One thing is for sure – there is a need for more awareness regarding cybersecurity in institutions to prevent the associated risks.

So, here are valuable insights on data security in educational institutions, as well as cybercrime prevention methods.

The great significance of data security in the education system

Why is education a target for cybercrime?

One might find it hilarious that hackers aim at compromising education systems, but it is true. Malicious actors target schools or HEIs for various reasons, often relying on aspects such as venue size, stature, and purpose. Some of the most common reasons for cybercrime include the following:

  • Data theft – All educational institutions, regardless of their size and purpose, hold critical personnel and student information, including names, addresses, and bank account details. It might not seem important at first sight, but for some individuals, this information is so valuable that they’d do everything possible to get their hands on it. The reasons these actors try to steal the information vary, but using it as an exchange tool and selling it to a third party are definitely the most common.
  • DDoS (Distributed Denial-of-Service) attacks – DDoS attacks are frequently employed to compromise a system, as they are accessible to almost anyone. So, even amateurs or inexperienced hackers can make use of a DDoS attack to flood an institution’s network with Internet traffic and thus cause widespread disruption. Once the network or server is overwhelmed with thousands of excessive requests, its intended users will find it hard, if not impossible, to continue to navigate it. It is the moment hackers get their hands on what they have been looking for: valuable, sensitive information.
  • Espionage – This attack targets especially reputable higher education institutions such as universities or colleges, which can also be research centres and thus possess precious intellectual property. Several prestigious universities conducting engineering, medical, and scientific research confronted cybercrimes. Those that malicious individuals or groups have compromised found themselves at the helm of these incidents. Thus, such institutions need to implement top-notch security procedures and be mindful of the type and amount of information shared on the Internet.
  • Financial gain – Every hacker’s main interest is financial gain, so they will undoubtedly look for possibilities to enter an educational institution’s system to steal bank account details or any other financial information. Public schools are less prone to this kind of attack, but for private institutions, the situation is concerning, to say at least. Universities and colleges usually handle vast amounts of student fees received via an online portal. Well, if there is poor security, this portal can be easily intruded on, and hackers inevitably have access to large sums of money.

Ransomware, malware, and phishing are among the most employed methods to compromise an educational institution. Thus, schools and HEIs are advised to be constantly cautious regarding these types of attacks and, if possible, educate their students on cybersecurity to increase their awareness and hence prevent them from falling into the trap of hackers’ scams.

What information can intruders get?

  • teacher and student email addresses
  • parent email address
  • class photos of students labelled by name
  • date of birth
  • first and last name
  • in-class behaviour records
  • gender
  • username and passwords

Educational institutions can address cybersecurity threats by taking into account:

Protecting the communication lines relying on various data protection guidelines

Many educational institutions have started using online communication platforms such as Zoom, Google Classroom, and Google Meet, and the Covid-19 pandemic has its merit in this sense if it could be said so. However, poor security of the lines of communication used can lead to severe cybercrimes. Zoom, for example, is used globally by thousands of schools and universities, but most of these institutions do not realise that it is also a platform vulnerable to cyberattacks. “Zoombombing” refers to a situation where unauthorised actors join a private call and spy on a particular lesson or discussion held on Zoom to gain access to sensitive data. Thus, institutions are recommended to employ operational security and make use of safe communication tools.

The truth is that these cyberattacks are unpredictable even if using advanced protection methods, so if it ever happens for such an educational entity to experience a data breach, specialists from advise on taking the necessary legal steps to claim compensation for the harm – material or psychological.

Finding a reliable data collection platform

Schools and universities are recommended to use reliable collection platforms such as web forms to increase their data security. This kind of approach can successfully address issues facing HEIs, as they ensure a single and secure place to collect data and operate remotely. Not only can this protect institutions from an all-time data breach but also student data from being targeted by suspicious actors. So, no more time scrutinising data across various platforms since several reliable solutions promise to handle a bunch of challenges in a single place.

Preventing social engineering

Attacks such as malware and phishing often target institutions, so the need for cybersecurity awareness is now greater than ever. Universities are thus advised to conduct thorough training, educating their staff and students on the various risks a cyberattack implies. People should be taught not to react to suspicious emails asking for private information or containing suspicious links and also be mindful of who they share sensitive information with.

Cybersecurity in education is of the utmost importance, so it needs to be addressed appropriately.

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