Learn about specialized measures and protocols to safeguard educational institutions’ digital infrastructure, data, and online learning platforms from cyber threats.

Six Cybersecurity Solutions to Protect Higher Education and K-12 School Districts

By: Brittany Demendi, Corporate Communications Manager

Usually, when we think of primary targets of cyberattacks, finance, banking, healthcare, and even municipalities come to mind., But, in reality, higher education and K-12 schools are also key targets. From sensitive student information to financial and research data, cybercriminals have plenty of temptation to target education. The most disturbing aspect of these attacks is that higher education and K-12 schools are tremendously behind in their cybersecurity efforts. The secret is out, and cyber criminals are showing no mercy. Microsoft reported that education recently accounted for 80% of enterprise malware.

Challenge: The Education Industry is Lagging in Cybersecurity

The education sector is struggling to keep up with cyber threats, and technology alone is not enough to protect schools. Education, like cybersecurity, evolves and requires people and products to do the same. If not, there is a lot at stake.

For example, school districts use specialized software to track students’ progress records, highly sensitive and confidential information on children. The New York Times reports on a recent cyberattack where the personal information of over 1 million former and current students was affected. Intimate information was breached, including descriptions of disabilities, behavior incidents, migrant status, ethnicities, names, birth dates, and more. This data breach violates student privacy laws that schools must abide by.

This cyberattack propelled the school district to up its cybersecurity and come out with multiple press releases to reassure students, employees, and parents that they are doing everything possible to secure sensitive data. The goal is not to let it get to this stage, but how can higher education and K-12 school districts mitigate risk and not fall behind?

Six Solutions to Eliminate Risk and Illuminate Threats

  1. Tech Funding Reevaluation: Addressing current and rising risks when assessing your cybersecurity budget is key. See if there is an opportunity to reallocate the budget to a platform that provides visibility and services with greater value in the long run rather than a security or anti-virus program. Unlike large corporations, education tends to operate on a smaller budget, so every dollar must provide the most value possible.
  2. Incident Response Plan: As an educational organization, you are consistently in the spotlight, especially for your reactions to challenging situations. The same goes for when an attack occurs. The media, parents, and students are watching to see the response plan with their personal opinion on deck. Put together a response plan where you have steps in place if a data breach or security incident happens.

    In addition, conduct a tabletop exercise to clarify the responsibilities and roles of your incident response team.  Knowing who makes what decision during a cyber crisis and how your team works together is ideal, which we have identified previously in The Ultimate Guide to Managing Strong Personalities During a Cyber Crisis.

    The tabletop exercise highlights team members and any gaps within your plan resulting in an action plan for an emergency. They are vital to business operations and help mitigate further reputational damage that schools cannot afford

  1. Invest in a Security Operations Platform: Cybercriminals are evolving their tactics and strategies, and so should educational organizations. IT teams are stretched thin, especially when the budget is low. Finding a security operations platform that includes risk management is built to assist in taking command of security and compliance—streamlining data ingesting, compliance, and analysis workflows throughout the enterprise. This illuminates system vulnerabilities, unseen cyber threats, and IT operations, so the path to visibility is clear.
  2. Implement Managed Detection and Response (MDR) Services: MDR services deliver 24×7 benefits scaled for higher education and K-12 school districts of all sizes. These services extend your security team without being too costly, offering around-the-clock coverage and access to one platform with everything in view. Many organizations opt for MDR services because their teams gain time back in their day and peace of mind knowing they are covered. A dedicated team continuously identifies critical vulnerabilities, rapidly remediates risks, and prioritizes threats and dangers.
  3. Test Your Defenses with Microsoft 365 Business Email Compromise Simulation: Business Email Compromise (BEC) is a critical method cyber criminals use target faculty, students, and administration. One of the primary types of a BEC attack is account compromise, when a cybercriminal gains access to the target’s account and uses it maliciously. Due to a lack of cybersecurity awareness, many attacks are successful and could’ve been avoided in most situations. Testing your defenses, specifically the Microsoft 365 (M365) environment, with an M365 BEC Simulation tool will not only identify how your security stacks up to top tactics used to compromise accounts, but it will also identify where all the gaps are in your protection.
  4. Make Security Awareness a Culture: Your students and employees are the first lines of defense against cybercriminals. They must feel empowered with the knowledge of reporting suspicious activities when they are targeted. Cybersecurity culture is essential to higher and K-12 education resilience to reduce the risk associated with human error. Thus, this culture needs to be a part of a broader organizational culture of daily actions encouraging faculty and students to make mindful decisions that align with educational security policies. A Proactive Security Awareness program does just that. Implementing fully managed security awareness testing and training is proven to reduce the risk posed by the human component.

Cyberattacks in the education sector are a growing trend. Most concerning is that the schools lag in their cybersecurity efforts due to limited budgets, lack of awareness, and more remote students. Fortunately, there is a light at the end of the tunnel and affordable resources to help illuminate these attacks. It is essential to seek out these resources and find experts that can assist with acting as an extension to your security team for 24×7 surveillance. Managing cyber risks becomes easy when everything is in one place from one platform.

Your Command Center for Security Operations - Education

Academic institutions, including public, private, K-12, and higher education, rely on Adlumin to protect their sensitive data and intellectual property from cyber threats. These institutions face risks of data breaches, financial loss, and disruption of academic programs.

Adlumin helps detect threats before they impact learning environments, safeguarding student and financial data. The stolen information, including personally identifiable information (PII), can have long-term consequences for students. Academic institutions often have dispersed IT resources, creating vulnerabilities that cyber criminals exploit. Hybrid learning models and decentralized IT infrastructure increase the threat surface as well. Compliance with regulations such as COPPA, FERPA, and HIPAA is crucial.

Adlumin provides essential cybersecurity solutions to mitigate risks and ensure academic institutions can leverage emerging technologies while safeguarding against cyberattacks.

Download this solution brief to learn more.