Cybersecurity threats and breaches come in many forms, including phishing scams, malware infections, data breaches, and more. Each of these threats has the potential to cause significant damage. Ransomware attacks are harmful to a school’s network infrastructure and the sensitive personal data of students, teachers, and staff.
In this article, we’ll discuss why schools are targeted by ransomware attacks and how you can protect yourself from these threats.
What is a Ransomware Attack and How are Schools at Risk?
Ransomware is a type of malicious software (malware) that encrypts data and blocks access until a ransom is paid. It has become an increasingly common form of cyber-attack, particularly on educational institutions. Attackers often target organizations with large amounts of sensitive data. Schools are especially vulnerable to ransomware attacks due to the large amount of data they store, as well as their often limited resources for cybersecurity and gaps in digital infrastructure.
Ransomware attacks on school systems can have a massive and potentially devastating impact on students, staff, and the school’s reputation. These attacks can cause long-lasting and expensive repercussions that can take months or even years to recover from. Schools need to be aware of the risks posed by cyberattacks and take steps to protect their systems from malicious actors.
Ransomware attacks can lead to financial losses due to the cost of recovery efforts or legal liabilities for failing to protect confidential student information.
Preventative Measures for Ransomware Attacks
Given the financial, security, and legal implications, schools need to invest in robust preventative cybersecurity measures. This could include regular security patching, backup solutions to ensure that data is protected if an attack occurs, and employee training on cyber security best practices.
Employee training programs should include topics such as identifying common security risks, understanding the importance of data privacy and security practices, and developing strategies for responding to cyber incidents. Furthermore, staff members must have a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities when it comes to protecting the school’s IT infrastructure.
By providing proper cybersecurity training programs for staff members in school systems, you can help ensure that your educational institution is better equipped to prevent future cyber threats.
Basic Rules to Combat Ransomware Attacks
- Never open an attachment in an email unless you trust the sender.
- Never click on links in an email unless from a trusted source and/or you recognize the linked site.
- Check the Sender’s email address. Hackers can spoof a person’s name and even company names (including logos) from your Contact List or trusted vendors. This “spoofing” fools you into trusting the email. If you do not recognize the email address, do not open or click on any links.
- When in doubt DON’T open or click. It is better to be safe than sorry. It will also cost less in time and money if you directly contact the person who sent you a random attachment or link and confirm it legitimately came from them.
It’s also helpful to learn about the various tactics used by attackers. These include understanding the different types of ransomware, analyzing attack vectors, implementing proactive cybersecurity measures, and developing incident response plans.
Embedding this institutional knowledge among school staff and administrators will help to minimize and prevent attacks from occurring. However, if an attack does occur, how should schools decide on whether to pay the ransom?
Paying the Ransom: Not a Simple Decision
Determining whether to pay ransom for a ransomware attack on school districts can be complicated. It requires careful consideration of the consequences, such as the potential loss of valuable data, and the associated costs. Additionally, there may be legal implications to consider when deciding whether to give in to a hacker’s demands.
So, when should school districts pay the ransom demand? It depends.
The critical first step is to identify what data has been compromised and assess the sensitivity of that information. If the data is not critical or sensitive, then it may not be worth paying the ransom demanded by hackers.
If the attackers have infiltrated any critical systems, then you need to make sure that immutable backups are available. This means your data is fixed, unchangeable, and can’t be deleted. If a backup is available, then the district should restore the data and keep a close eye to ensure the hackers aren’t still infiltrating the systems. If no backups are available, the ransom will have to be paid, or officials will have to negotiate to restore the affected data and systems.
No matter the circumstances, district leaders must be prepared if their school’s data gets breached. The main method is by understanding all of the potential risks associated with payment before making any decisions. Moreover, training, prevention, and internal knowledge of cybersecurity are key steps to ensuring a robust defense against ransomware attacks.