Five Key Steps to Help the Education Sector Tackle Cybercrime

Although those in the education world may not view themselves as targets for cyberattacks, the vast amounts of information universities hold actually makes them valuable targets for hackers, as a successful data breach can cause huge reputational and financial damage to an institution. This has resulted in the education sector being the third most at risk sector for cyberattacks.

With this in mind, Nowcomm’s Chief Technology Officer, James Baly, and Head of Services, Kevin Prone, hosted a webinar to help those in the education sector understand and address the security challenges faced by educational institutions.

James and Kevin were joined by Perry Timms, renowned speaker and blogger on the future of work, and Ben Fairburn, Education Leader for EMEA at Cisco. The experts discussed the motives of why cyberattacks occur, common issues enabling attacks to succeed and highlighted examples of how different establishments are progressing with digital transformation in a safe way.

The webinar also covered five actions organisations in the education sector can take to combat cyberattacks and these will be outlined in this blog.

Training

According to data from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) 90% of cyber data breaches in 2019 were caused by human error, showing the importance of educating everyone in the organisation to be aware of the best security practices.

Therefore, it’s vital that everyone involved with the institution (not just those in the IT department) is trained and given the knowledge to recognise and react to cyber risks, in order to protect the organisation.

Training must also be specific to the person being trained, for example students should be taught how to protect their university work and personal data and lecturers in terms of their professional duties. In addition, cyber education must be relevant to the circumstances of the audience. With more remote learning in place currently due to the pandemic, training must be adapted to reflect this change and communicated effectively to students and staff.

Planning

A strong action plan is essential to have in place if the worst does happen. The action plan should consist of a checklist of priorities to ensure each element is covered in terms of bringing systems back online, communicating with the people involved and managing the organisation’s brand reputation.

It is important everyone from senior management to operational staff are aware of the protocol and the plan has been tested before in advance of a data breach, so the action plan can be carried out as smoothly and as quickly as possible. Having a checklist also makes the actions seem less overwhelming then reacting and panicking in the event of a data breach.

Visibility

It has been reported that it takes an average of 209 days for an organisation to detect that they have been breached. However, as cyberattacks only take a matter of seconds, visibility is imperative to identify any suspicious activity and act quickly to tackle insecure areas of their network. As educational institutions have high numbers of connections into their networks from many students and employees and need to protect a large amount of data, visibility is especially key in the education sector.

Getting the right balance of visibility is an important factor to consider when assessing cyber vulnerabilities. You want to ensure you have the best tools in place to protect your organisation but without getting overwhelmed with too many tools. ‘Cyber fatigue’ is becoming more common and is when you are inundated with network vulnerability alerts but there are too many to be addressed. It has been reported that only 48% of threat alerts are addressed, down from around 56% three years ago, showing this problem is only increasing.

With the number of alerts increasing but the response rate decreasing, how can organisations address this gap? This problem can be tackled by streamlining the tools in place and prioritising to patch the vulnerabilities that pose as the highest risks first. When adding new tools, ask if they improve visibility and integrate with current tools, to ensure they are making your processes more effective rather than hindering efficiency.

Simplification

Students attend university to learn so it is essential for institutions to enable their learning with secure technology rather than security being an inhibitor. Universities should strive to avoid having laborious technical processes just to get a device on the network which ultimately distract and disrupt students’ learning.

The university campus has been described as an ‘internet café’, a term signifying the ease and availability of connectively through the campus. Students are used to fast and intuitive technology, therefore the user experience on campus should be no different – students should be able to effortlessly connect to the network.

In order to secure this simplified process, it is important to ensure the baseline security measures are in place first, which goes back to network visibility and educating users on best practices.

Strategy

Finally, look to the future and ensure your organisation has a long-term strategy which you can use to set goals and work towards achieving them.

As cyberattacks are continually advancing and becoming more sophisticated, make sure your plan includes a shift towards increasing tools that use machine learning to identify and prioritise the most important risks to your organisation. Automation and integration of these solutions will help you provide a seamless user experience and increase visibility to allow you to react and respond to a potential data breach as efficiently. As possible.

How can Nowcomm help?

To help support businesses with the implementation of effective action plans, Nowcomm has joined forces with Cisco Systems to create a cyber security fund. Organisations can access funds to run a detailed compliance scan of their networks and receive a full security report for their business. To find out more about this initiative, or to view the full version of the webinar visit: https://nowcomm.com/webinar-education/