How can UK schools, colleges and Universities protect themselves from increasing ransomware attacks by cyber criminals?

Recently the National Cyber Security Centre (NSCS) warned of increasing number of ransomware attacks in the education sector. This may be in part to the shift to online learning – many schools and colleges quickly had to provide email mailboxes to access the online curriculum.

Ransomware is malicious code typically spread through email, which encrypts data allowing criminals to demand money for its release. It’s a profitable business – netting billions for hackers worldwide. Not only is the data encrypted, hackers may also threaten to sell data online, raising huge safeguarding and privacy concerns in the education sector.

In recent incidents ransomware has led to the loss of student coursework, school financial records, as well as data relating to COVID-19 testing. And of course, a potential financial loss for any provider who pays for the release of their data.

Many schools and colleges gave staff and students Microsoft 365 access, and with good reason. Its a great solution for educators – Outlook for email, Word, Excel, PowerPoint for homework and college essays, SharePoint for cloud storage and Teams for online learning.

Whilst this enabled the shift to remote learning, it may also have widened the cyber threat surface, making them a prime target for cyber criminals to send phishing emails ready to deploy ransomware threats.

  1. Prevent malware being delivered with email filtering removing threats before they reach the mailboxes of your staff and students.
  2. Have a good backup strategy to recover quickly. Many organisations find out the hard way that Microsoft does not protect their data as well as they think. Whilst Microsoft protects the infrastructure the data held is not their responsibility.
  3. Restrict access to the internet to approved sites only with automatic web filtering software.
  4. Educate your users about the dangers of clicking links, opening documents or downloading from the internet.

Advatek as a cyber security specialist can help your school or college to assess their threat risk to prevent attacks, detect attacks as they are happening and put disaster recovery and backup plan in place to recover quickly.