Cyber Threats Plaguing the Education Sector


With cyber security becoming a more prominent need in the Education sector, it’s time to face the threats.
Because let’s face it, cyber criminals know the Education sector isn’t as well funded for security. In every Education institute, cyber security needs to become relevant in all areas, not just IT. Administrators, educators and assistants need to understand the threats and the seriousness of them. These threats aren’t going away and, in fact, the Educations sector is often viewed as an easy target. 

With the recent shift to virtual classrooms and the abundance of personal devices being used to log into systems, the threat has only increased. The more technology is used for learning, teaching and operations, the more vulnerable you become.

But, what are the common threats to be aware of?

Here are the top four threats that continually plague the Education sector:


Email phishing is the most common of all cyber attacks. Around half of cyber attacks in the UK involve phishing, which is roughly 20% higher than the global average. Phishing is the activity of sending emails that appear legitimate, but actually entice users to click on malicious links or reveal personal information. As the cyber landscape has evolved, so has phishing tactics, and modern-day phishing emails can be difficult to detect.

It’s important to train all staff to be able to detect and report malicious email activity. Ensuring staff know what to look for and what to do with a malicious email is the most important step in dealing with phishing. Ensure there is a process for when a member of staff does click on a malicious link so the virus is quarantined before it spreads.

To protect themselves, Education institutes must ensure firewalls and email systems or platforms have strict configurations to prevent malicious attachments from being downloaded.


DDoS (distributed denial-of-service) attacks happen when the bandwidth and resources of a server get flooded by multiple systems. They are difficult to stop, especially on physical servers. Cloud-based services can offer traffic scanning and analysis services to mitigate the attack but Education institutes need to ensure they get the right service to tackle to threat, which can be expensive.

The key to tackling the DDoS threat is to monitor network activity and identify attacks early, and then have strong procedures in place for what to do when an attack has been detected. You can then work to limit the amount of traffic coming through to the server.


Ransomware attacks involve a specific type of malicious software that encrypts devices and data until a ransom has been paid to regain access to it. Depending on what the data is, these attacks sometimes involve the threat of releasing the data to the public realm if the ransom isn’t paid.

Nullifying the threat of ransomware involves ensuring regular backups of the data on a server that isn’t attached to the same network. This ensures continuity and no lost data – but all Educational institutes should have a policy in place to deal with a ransomware attack.

Data Breach

A data breach occurs when secure, private information is released into the public realm, such as personal student information or financial information.

Data Loss Prevention (DLP) solutions aim to detect and prevent data breaches but can be expensive for Educational institutions to implement. In order to reduce the risk of a data breach, staff and end-users should be made aware of, and receive training on, the data they are responsible for protecting and how to safely access and save data. They should also adopt encryption services for any sensitive data that needs to be shared, particularly via email.

As with the above, a data breach procedure is important if one takes place, and think about insurance to cover the cost of mitigating against the data breach.

Building Cyber Awareness into Education Culture

When it comes to cyber security, there can often be an over-reliance on technology. However, when attacks happen, it’s regularly not the technology that is the weak link. It’s individuals within the organisation putting them at risk with bad behaviours and common mistakes.

That’s why it’s the education of everyone within the organisation that’s important, as well as the implementation of the right technology and processes. With spending on cyber security often hindered by budget cuts, one way to bolster the defences is by making sure employees operate iron tight process and activities.

Upgrade firewalls, secure endpoints and ensure staff follow best practice advice on passwords and identifying malicious links.

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