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The top 5 cybersecurity threats for schools

If your school hasn't thought about cybersecurity as a growing concern, it's time to learn what the threats are and what you should be doing to keep your school, and its data, protected.

You’d be hard-pressed today to find a school that doesn’t consider safety a high priority. We go to great lengths to keep those inside school walls safe, running drills and spreading awareness in case of threat. There’s one kind of threat schools often overlook when it comes to safety, however, and that’s cyber attack.

Cybersecurity isn’t a new concern by any means—it’s just one that’s taken many schools quite a long time to develop a safety plan. With recent ransomware attacks like WannaCry and Petya, the potential theft and leakage of data, particularly confidential information, should be on the minds of all school leaders.

If your school hasn’t thought about cybersecurity as a growing concern, it’s time to learn what the threats are and what you should be doing to keep your school, and its data, protected. To start, here are the top five cybersecurity threats schools face and how you should prepare:

1. Link Security

From ransomware to phishing and other types of security breaches, direct contact is the number one way that you can create a vulnerability in your system. Those who commit these online crimes are finding smarter and sneakier ways to infiltrate your data every day. Sometimes the attack can even come as an email from a legitimate sender, or appear to be a perfectly normal message on social media. The goal is usually to get you to click on a link.

Solution: Make sure the security preferences for your email account(s) are set up to filter spamming, phishing and executable files that aren’t recognized. There are also many email scanners on the market that can restrict macro script files and authenticate inbound mail.

2. Unknown Devices

It’s not just the devices themselves you have to worry about–you also need to protect your network as a whole. While precautions must be taken with the devices your school owns, you also need to consider the devices students and staff bring with them that access your network.

Solution: Your IT system should include a solution that tracks all devices, including those not owned by your school, that enter the network.

3. Out of Date Technology

Contrary to popular misconception, user interaction isn’t always required for a cyber attack to be launched. The WannaCry attack targeted hundreds of computers all with the same security vulnerability on their Windows operating systems. While newer versions of Windows now come with that weakness patched, the victims were all users who hadn’t updated to the latest OS or downloaded the necessary patch.

Solution: Again, an IT solution that tracks all devices is important, but one that can also check on software upgrades and block access to certain apps is ideal.

(Next page: 2 more common cybersecurity threats and possible solutions)

4. User Error

A data breach in Florida is just one example of the chaos user error can provoke. This issue didn’t begin with hackers at all. It began with carelessness that caused sensitive information to become public, leading two students to sue the Miami-Dade school district after a simple Google search revealed that their test scores and social security numbers were published on the district website for all to see.

User error occurs regularly, and a common root of this is failing to restrict access to files or certain sites that may be compromised.

Solution: Restrict user access to sensitive documents only to those who absolutely need them, and make sure that your site architecture is set up to require a secure login for access. You may also want to create a white list of safe sites and applications and block the rest.

5. No Backup

As disheartening as it sounds, even when you take all the necessary precautions to protect your vital information, data breaches can still occur. When an attack happens, it’s often a major blow to productivity to try and get all the information back into a secure place. Worse, vital work can be lost for good.

Solution: Install a backup system on each school device that sends data to a remote server throughout the day (not just at night) to help make sure nothing is lost.

Arming Your Team with Tools

If you’re already using a help desk solution to automate your cybersecurity program, you may want to consider adding two additional tools for your IT team: agentless asset inventory and mobile management.

An agentless tool tracks all IP-addressable devices on your network, meaning any device that enters your network (school property or not) is discoverable. You’ll not only be able to know a device’s users and location, you can also see if their software is up to date and see what applications they have downloaded. Best of all, you don’t have to manually download an agent on each device.

When it comes to mobile asset management tools, like Mobile Device Management, you not only can track who is on your network, but remotely access each device. You can push out updates remotely, restrict access while these devices are on your network and enforce any of your other security protocols.

While those who commit online crimes can sometimes seem unstoppable, making sure those in your school are educated about cybersecurity goes a long way. Action, however, is required to prevent infiltration, so begin creating your cyber safety program with these five solutions now to make your school that much safer.

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