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What are the cyber risks in the education sector?

20 January, 2023

The cyber health of educational sector establishments is a growing concern in the UK, and for a good reason. In a recent survey conducted by the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre, 61% of educational institutions reported a cyber-attack in the last 12 months, a figure that rises to 78% when looking at schools alone. That’s an astonishing figure, one which highlights the state of play as we move into 2023

Furthermore, UK government statistics reveal that the education sector is the second most targeted sector for cybercrime in the UK, with incidents of fraud and data breaches reported to be on the rise.

Cases such as the cyber-attack on the University of Greenwich in 2019, which resulted in the personal data of students and staff being compromised, highlight the severity of these risks.

These statistics and cases make it clear that educational institutions must stay informed and take proactive measures to protect organisations and people against cybersecurity risks.

At Bob’s Business, we’re all about cybersecurity education, so join us as we highlight why the education sector is so at risk, and what you can do in your organisation to prevent any cyber-attacks in the future.

Why is the education sector at risk of cyber attacks?

The question of why the educational sector is particularly at risk is an important one. After all, why would a cybercriminal attack a university, foundation or academy?

The education sector is at risk for several reasons. One of the most significant factors is the large amount of personal and sensitive information collected and stored by educational institutions.

This information includes student and staff data, financial information and, often, valuable research data.

Additionally, the increased use of technology in the classroom, such as laptops and tablets, alongside the growing reliance on online platforms and applications, have created more opportunities for cybercriminals to gain access to this information.

Another reason why the education sector is at risk is that many educational institutions dedicate little to no resources to cybersecurity. In turn, this creates a fertile environment for cybercriminals to operate within, making attacks desirable and, frankly, inevitable.

Why every education sector organisation needs a robust cybersecurity programme in place

A data breach in the education sector can have serious consequences, including financial losses, reputational damage, and even legal action.

From students to staff members, the loss of personal and sensitive information can profoundly impact the individuals affected. Here’s what a cyber security programme does for your organisation:

  • Protects sensitive student and staff information: A cybersecurity programme ensures that personal information such as names, addresses, and financial data of students and staff is secure and protected from potential cyber threats.
  • Prevents financial losses: A data breach can cause financial losses for an institution due to potential fines, legal costs along with significant reputational damage.
  • Avoids reputational damage: A data breach can harm an institution's reputation and lead to loss of trust from students, staff, even the wider community.
  • Mitigates legal action: A data breach can lead to legal action against an institution if regulations are not complied with; a cybersecurity programme helps prevent breaches and ensure compliance with relevant regulations.
  • Ensures the continuity of education: Cyber-attacks on institutions can result in the shutdown of critical systems and resources that support teaching and research.
  • Maintains the privacy and trust of students, staff and their families: A data breach can compromise the privacy and personal information of students, staff and their families.
  • Enables institutions to comply with data protection regulations: Institutions handle large amounts of personal data and are subject to data protection regulations; a robust cybersecurity programme helps institutions to comply with these regulations and avoid potential penalties.
  • Secures the intellectual property and research data of institutions: Educational institutions conduct research and develop intellectual property that needs to be protected.

Don’t believe us? Let’s take a look at a real-life case of an education sector data breach.

The University of Cambridge data breach

The University of Cambridge suffered a data breach in 2019, in which the personal information of staff and students, including names, addresses, and email addresses, were accessed by attackers.

Additionally, sensitive financial information was also compromised. The attack caused the university to shut down its entire IT network, leading to significant disruptions to the day-to-day operations of the institution.

This data breach could have been avoided if the University of Cambridge had provided sufficient cybersecurity training for its staff and students. By educating staff and students on best practices for online security, such as identifying phishing scams and creating strong passwords, the University could have reduced the likelihood of a successful cyber-attack.

Regular cybersecurity training could have ensured that all staff and students were aware of the latest threats and how to protect against them, potentially identifying and stopping the attack before it could do any damage.

How can your educational institution improve its cybersecurity?

Reducing cyber risk and building a security culture within an educational establishment won’t happen overnight, but there are a number of steps you can take today to put you on a cyber-secure footing.

One of the most effective ways is to invest in cybersecurity training for staff and students.

It won't be breaking news for educators that education is invaluable, but it can’t be overstated how crucial it is in preventing cyber-attacks. Case in point: over 90% of breaches occur as a result of simple human error.

Training staff members and students is the most effective way to reduce the likelihood of a successful breach. However, genuinely successful training only happens when everyone receives equal training on best practices for online security, including how to identify and avoid phishing scams, how to create strong passwords, and how to use security software.

Beyond training, institutions should:

  • Invest in technologies and software to detect and prevent cyber-attacks.
  • Regularly review and update their policies and procedures. This includes creating a comprehensive incident response plan that outlines the steps that should be taken in the event of a cyber-attack.
  • Conduct regular security assessments to identify potential vulnerabilities and take steps to mitigate them.

How can Bob’s Business help your educational institution reduce its cyber risk?

At Bob’s Business, we offer unique and engaging online cybersecurity training that makes reducing risk simple and affordable for every kind of educational sector organisation. Our training is designed to empower everyone in your team to identify and respond to cyber threats, protecting your business from the 90% of breaches that occur due to human error.

Our training is also bite-sized, interactive, and easy to fit into your busy schedule. Plus, it's engaging, ensuring your team stays motivated and focused throughout the process.

We’ve been helping to deploy cybersecurity training and policy compliance solutions across education sector institutions, such as the University of Northampton and DMAT Schools, for over 14 years.

With features such as in-depth quarterly and annual reporting, built-in policy management, truly engaging short-form training and support for devices of all shapes and sizes, Bob’s Business is uniquely positioned to help you stop cyber-attacks.

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