The pandemic ushered in a new beginning for the education industry, with remote learning becoming a norm. Schools, colleges, and universities across the globe were quick to adapt to the situation and continued working despite the strict lockdowns. Technology was the savior as it played a crucial role in connecting educators and learners.
But opportunities always bring threats, and the same happened in the industry. While technology facilitated remote learning, it opened educational institutions to cyber threats. The remote learning model is here to stay, and so is the cybersecurity risk. Colleges and universities have recently witnessed a surge in cyberattacks.
According to a 2022 study, 64% of higher education organizations experienced ransomware attacks in the previous year. The number marks a significant increase from 44% the year before. The situation prevails in 2023 as surveys show at least 27 confirmed ransomware attacks on American universities and colleges so far in the year.
Since higher-ed institutions (HEIs) have loads of sensitive data, such as personal and financial details on students and their parents and cutting-edge research, such attacks are disconcerting. While the threat is real, it isn’t insurmountable, provided organizations consider cybersecurity a dire concern. The best way to address the risk is by building robust defenses.
Here are a few actionable tips for HEIs to fortify themselves against cyber attacks.
Know the Potential Threats
Did you know that nearly 8.5 million American students are opting for online classes at public higher education institutions in 2023? That translates into a huge attack surface for colleges and universities because more people accessing the systems spell a greater risk. Knowing the potential threats is the first step toward securing the systems against attacks.
It is easy to overlook cyber threats when it does not have anything to do with your service, but you may end up in a fix sooner than later. Threats may be internal, as teachers and staff members make the systems vulnerable by clicking unreliable links or opening suspicious emails. Distributed denial-of-services, hacking attacks, ransomware attacks, and data breaches are other reasons to worry.
Invest in Cybersecurity Expertise
Since cyber threats are more common than they appear, HEIs must have someone to address the risk. Investing in cybersecurity expertise is the ideal route as a seasoned professional can help you build your defenses in the first place and resolve the attack if it still happens. But you may not want to hire a team because it can burn a hole in your wallet.
You can opt for an outsourced model with managed IT services for education providers. With a reliable partner looking after your IT needs and cyber defense requirements, you can rest assured about keeping attacks at bay. A managed IT partner provides top-notch expertise at a fraction of the cost of hiring a team, so you need not stress about the expense.
According to Triio, HEIs can rely on managed IT service providers for solutions to streamline their operations, enhance learning experiences, and ensure data security. It is a complete package deal where IT professionals with relevant expertise do the heavy lifting. With this assurance, educationists can do what they are the best at, with zero worries about hackers and malicious players.
Educate Your Team
Collaborating with a managed provider to build your defenses is a great start, but you cannot deny that insider threats still exist. According to reports, 91% of cyber attacks start with a phishing email to a victim. Your team members could be at risk if they do not know the basics of safe online behavior.
Imagine losing your data only because someone clicked a suspicious link or opened an infected mail. The best way to curb the risk is by educating your team about the risks and the ways to minimize them. Implementing regular cybersecurity training for your employees enables you to defend your college or university from attacks. Extending the training program to students is an even better idea.
Cover the Security Basics
Covering the security basics is the best line of defense against cyber attacks for schools, colleges, and universities. No matter how smart an attacker is, sidelining the simplest defenses can be challenging for them. Your managed IT provider can help you create a simple yet robust cybersecurity policy with the following measures:
- Ensure everyone (learners and educators) uses secure passwords and changes them often
- Implement multi-factor authentication
- Manage access rights to your systems
- Test and protect your backups
- Prioritize patch management
Like any business, education providers must learn to co-exist with cyber threats. As hackers get smarter, they continue to find ways to bypass the best defenses. But even the basics can cover your HEI from most risks. You can follow these measures to strengthen your defenses, run your institution securely, and deliver knowledge seamlessly.