At this point, it is hard to imagine learning without technology. We are used to online learning and fully digital classrooms. Yet, as the school environment becomes more tech-dependent, protecting student data becomes a challenge. 

The education sector has been facing a massive surge in cyberthreats in recent years. Cyberattacks have become so frequent that they’ve grown to become a daily issue for schools worldwide. Microsoft Security Intelligence states that education is the most affected industry of all. It had about 80% of reported malware encounters. 

Let’s look closer at how learning institutions are targeted. Here are the eight types of cybersecurity threats facing schools most often.

  1. Malware

Various viruses, warms, spyware, and so on are examples of malware. Its purpose is to damage computers or steal the sensitive data of their owners. 


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  1. Phishing

Phishing aims to lure people into disclosing sensitive information like student records, grades, passwords, contact information, etc. 

Cybercriminals disguise themselves as legitimate organizations and ask a victim to do a specific action. They might send an email requesting to provide some personal details or to update a password following the link that will lead you to a phishing website. Phishing attempts can also include attachments infected with malware.

  1. Ransomware

Ransomware is a type of malware that has become so widespread that it deserves some extra attention. Ransomware attacks threaten to block or publish a victim’s sensitive data unless they pay a ransom. 

Just consider the scale of the problem. 64% of higher education institutions and 56% of K-12 schools reported such incidents in a 2021 Sophos survey. Ransomware attacks have huge financial consequences. Globally, the recovery costs educational institutions millions. 

  1. DDoS attacks

Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks happen when a server or network of an educational institution is flooded with more requests than it can handle. Unfortunately, this type of attack is easy to carry out, especially when schools don’t take enough measures to protect their systems. 

DDoS attacks result in downtime and a significant drop in productivity. Educational institutions can’t use their online tools to process requests, form records, or notify students of critical information in a timely manner. This may also hurt their reputation. 

  1. Data Breaches

Education gets more data-driven, which also makes it vulnerable to data breaches. Schools hold large databases that include students’ sensitive information. It ranges from addresses and contact details to financial information and medical records. Cybercriminals can get unauthorized access to these databases and use them for malicious purposes. 

Sometimes a data breach can occur even without an external attacker. For example, this happens when an employee, who is an internal user, accidentally sees the information they are not authorized to access. 

  1. Outdated Software

Outdated and unpatched software can be considered a security threat as well. Without constant security updates, the network of an institution becomes vulnerable to various sorts of attacks. 

Usually, when a vulnerability gets discovered in an operating system or product, it gets publicized and known to cybercriminals. Such problems get immediately addressed and patched. However, if an educational institution fails to update its system, they remain extremely vulnerable to cyberattacks. 

  1. Formjacking

Formjacking is a type of cybersecurity threat to educational institutions when a criminal gains control over the functionality of a website. They inject malicious code that enables them to collect sensitive information. For example, they can steal students’ login information and access their home addresses, phone numbers, and more. This data can be used for malicious purposes or sold on the dark web. 

Formjacking often doesn’t even get noticed by schools since cybercriminals may collect data and leave without leaving a trace or causing interruptions to the work of the website. 

  1. Human Factor

The human factor is often one of the less spoken of cybersecurity threats because it is less obvious. Yet, people aren’t perfect and sometimes may unintentionally expose their computer systems to online dangers. 

Human-caused errors are often the result of poor technological literacy and a lack of understanding of cybersecurity measures. However, they may also happen due to negligence and inappropriate access control. The human factor is one of the most complicated issues to resolve as it requires continuous learning and development as well as strict security measures. 

The Bottom Line

With technological advancements, educational institutions get exposed to more sophisticated and dangerous cyberthreats. They can be targeted in a variety of ways and often unexpected ones. This is why it is so important to raise awareness about the possible risks. We need this to promote proper cybersecurity hygiene and student safety. 


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