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Back to school: protecting students, staff, and data in education

14 September, 2023

The new school year is about to kick off, and with it, a buzz of excitement among students and staff for new beginnings and opportunities.

However, this period also brings an elevated risk of cyber threats.

According to UK government statistics, the education sector ranks as the country's second most targeted sector for cybercrime.

In this blog, we will explore the importance of cybersecurity in education and provide insights to assist educational institutions in practising secure cybersecurity measures - especially during this heightened period of cyber threats.

What cyber risks will students encounter?


New email addresses and unfamiliar sources:

Phishing emails pose a more significant concern as the school year begins.

Here's why: at the start of the year, there is an influx of new students and staff, resulting in numerous new names and email addresses being added to the system.

This can make it challenging to distinguish trusted sources from unfamiliar ones.

Communication patterns and onboarding:

Many new users may not yet be familiar with the typical communication patterns within the educational institution.

This lack of familiarity can create challenges in recognising safe emails from potentially malicious ones. Cyber attackers take advantage of this by sending phishing emails, such as "Click here to set up your new account,".

Attackers assume that amid all these unfamiliar emails, users will be less suspicious and believe it to be part of the onboarding process.

Concerning urgency and information overload:

Another significant issue arises from the surge of important messages at the beginning of the school year.

These messages may include crucial information like new deadlines, enrolment details, and administrative announcements.

Phishing emails often create a sense of urgency, claiming immediate action is required to avoid consequences.

Users are more likely to act hastily without scrutinising the email's authenticity.

System updates

During the summer holiday there is reduced activity, which can lead to a backlog of pending system updates and security measures.

These updates may not be fully implemented until the new academic year begins, creating vulnerabilities that cybercriminals are eager to exploit.

Weak password security

As the new year starts after a prolonged break, many individuals might not have logged into their accounts for an extended period of time.

Consequently, they might struggle to remember their passwords, leading to a surge in password reset requests.

Additionally, some individuals may opt for easily guessable passwords in a hurry, unknowingly compromising security.

Lack of cybersecurity education

The start of the school year introduces new students and staff, many of whom may still need proper cybersecurity education or have forgotten essential security measures during the break.

This knowledge gap can make them vulnerable to phishing attacks, malware, and other online threats.

The risks associated with poor security in education

Data breaches and privacy violations

Phishing attacks, weak password security, and a lack of cybersecurity education can lead to data breaches within educational institutions.

If cybercriminals successfully attack systems, they can gain access to sensitive student and staff data, including personal information, financial records, and academic records.

Such breaches compromise individual privacy and expose the institution to legal liabilities, reputational damage, and financial losses.

Disruption of academic activities

System vulnerabilities resulting from delayed updates can disrupt academic activities. Cyberattacks can lead to a lack of critical systems and resources that support teaching, learning, and administrative functions.

These disruptions can result in a general loss of productivity, negatively impacting the overall educational experience.

A drain on resources

Addressing the aftermath of cyberattacks, including data breaches and system compromises, often requires significant resources.

Compromised institutions must work to recover and restore compromised systems, which can be time-consuming and expensive.

These unexpected costs can strain the budget of educational institutions, diverting funds from other essential educational initiatives.

How to protect your institution

Cybersecurity training and awareness programmes:

Implement regular and mandatory cybersecurity training and awareness programmes for all students and staff members.

These programmes should cover topics such as identifying phishing emails, creating strong and unique passwords, recognising common cyber threats, and understanding the importance of data security.

Through education, institutions empower individuals to play an active role in cybersecurity defence.

Multi-factor authentication (MFA):

Enforce multi-factor authentication (MFA) across all institutional accounts and systems. MFA adds an extra layer of security by requiring users to provide two or more forms of verification before granting access.

This additional security measure helps protect accounts from unauthorised access, even if passwords are compromised. It significantly reduces the risk of unauthorised access.

Regular system updates and patch management:

Establish a robust system for regularly updating and patching all software, applications, and systems within the institution's network.

Ensure that critical security patches are applied promptly to address known vulnerabilities. This proactive approach reduces the risk of cyberattacks targeting outdated or unpatched software.

Additionally, schedule system updates during periods of reduced activity, such as at the end of the day or periods when the device isn’t in use, to minimise disruptions to academic activities.

How Bob’s Business can help your educational institution

At Bob’s Business, we provide engaging eLearning cybersecurity training that helps to protect educational sector organisations like the University of Northampton and DMAT Schools.

Our training empowers every team member to recognise and effectively respond to cyber threats, protecting your organisation from the 90% of breaches attributed to human error.

Our training modules are conveniently designed in bite-sized portions, ensuring interactivity and easy integration into your busy schedule.

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