With the rise of remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are seeing an increase in cyber-attacks. These are resulting in a loss of data, public information exposure and disruptions to businesses. However, teachers and education providers are not immune to the threat and effects of cyber-attacks.
Having a weak cyber-security infrastructure can put you and your students at risk, especially when educational institutions are obliged to safeguard their students.
What is a cyber-attack?
Cyber-attacks happen when a cyber-criminal attempts to breach or gain illegal access to an individual or an organisation’s system or information. The information obtained can then be used to expose, alter or steal from the victim. Cyber-attacks come in different forms, including phishing emails and malware viruses.
Cyber-attacks are costly and can take a significant time to neutralise, resulting in a waste of valuable time and stress to victims. Systems may need to be investigated thoroughly to ensure the threat is completely removed.
The education sector is an attractive victim to cyber-criminals and hackers because of the valuable data held, such as staff and student information, alumni databases, supplier details and research data.
1.3million New Zealanders have been a victim of cybercrime in 2019
59% of New Zealanders have experienced a cyber crime
30% of New Zealanders have lost money as a result of cyber crime
67% of New Zealanders have no idea what to do if their identity was stolen
From the 2019 Norton Cyber Safety Insights Report
How can it be prevented?
While the threat of cyber-attacks can be scary, there are some key things education providers can do to make sure they’re protecting their staff and their students.
Keep your school’s software up-to-date
Make sure you and your colleagues are not ignoring software updates. Cyber-criminals can find loopholes in outdated software to access devices and networks, so it’s important to keep software up-to-date.
Back up your school’s data
It’s just as important to back up important information and configuration settings. If you or your school have been the victim of a cyber-attack, restoring data from backups is the best and fastest way of getting back to business as usual. When backing up data, make sure it’s stored somewhere safe online or offline – be it in a cloud system or an external drive.
Be aware of phishing scams
Phishing email scams are one of the most common way for cyber-criminals to gain illegal access to information. These emails can look very real, with some including the branding and logos of legitimate organisations.
For example, a hacker may email you pretending to be from your bank and ask you to reset your password. They will include a link that, when clicked, will take you to a page that looks like your bank’s reset password page. By giving them your information, they can immediately gain access to your bank account.
Here are some things to look out for in a phishing email:
- The email is sent from a public domain (e.g. gmail.com), or one that looks legitimate, but is spelt incorrectly
- Poorly written content
- Suspicious attachments or links
- The message creates a sense of urgency.
Make sure you and your colleagues are aware of, and are being vigilant about, email scams and phishing attacks.
Practice good password management
The easiest way to protect your data and increase your security is to choose a good password. It’s easy to get into the habit of using the same password for all your accounts and choosing an easy one to remember. After all, who wants to remember a password with different numbers and characters? Make sure you’re creating a password that’s strong, unique and difficult to guess.
It’s also good practice to regularly update your password. And, where possible, invest in two-factor authentication. An example of this is where you receive a confirmation message to your mobile phone when logging into an account.
Build a culture of data protection
Raising awareness of cyber-attacks and providing basic training for all users of a school’s network is one of the best ways to mitigate the risk of a cyber-attack. This can be doing something as simple as sharing a handbook with information on cyber-attacks, what to look out for and how to practice good cyber-security hygiene. A basic course on cyber-security can be another valuable tool.
Providing people with the necessary information to protect their network can reduce the number of incidents caused by human error.
Investing in cyber insurance
To address the increase in cyber-attacks, insurance companies have started including cyber protection products to cover personal, business and household cyber.
Beneficial Insurance, which is 100% New Zealand owned and operated, has launched CyberProtect, which provides cover for cyberbullying, cyber fraud, restoration costs, cyber extortion and identity theft. Consider investing in cyber insurance as an extra layer of protection.
Unfortunately, cyber-attacks can’t be 100% eliminated. However, we can reduce the risk of an attack by being informed, keeping up-to-date with current information and building good cyber-security practices.
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