Nov 07 2023

Elevate Your School’s Security Posture as 2024 Approaches

Cyberattacks are becoming more numerous and increasingly sophisticated. Proactive measures can keep staff and students safe online.

Only a few months into the new school year, we’ve already seen a surge in ransomware attacks on schools and sensitive student data being leaked online. Ransomware poses the biggest threat to data privacy and security, and schools are the top target of these attacks.

As the increase in cyberattacks against educational systems persists, it jeopardizes students’ safety. Data loss can shut down a district or tarnish a school’s reputation, underscoring the importance of investing time, resources and energy into fortifying data defenses and protection measures against attacks before it’s too late.

As of August 2023, ransomware attacks had impacted at least 48 districts, three more than in the entire year of 2022. Unfortunately, 79 percent of those districts were affected by data breaches.

2024 will be no different. The education sector remains a lucrative target for cybercriminals. As schools enter the new year, it’s crucial that educational institutions, from K–12 schools to colleges and universities, take a proactive approach to safeguarding student and institutional data.

Click the banner to learn more about protecting your K–12 schools from ransomware threats.

Why Are Schools a Prime Target for Cybercriminals?

Education systems holds copious amounts of sensitive information — including health and financial records, Social Security numbers and home addresses — making them excellent targets for cybercriminals to exploit.

Detection and prevention measures continuously evolve, improving such protections as strict permission guidelines, network traffic monitoring and multifactor authentication. However, attackers are becoming increasingly sophisticated, often bypassing these commonly used defense measures.

Users of school-issued devices, both staff and students, can unintentionally grant bad actors access to their personal information. Users who are chronically online — whether they’re engaging in virtual learning, planning lessons or spending extended hours on social media —often openly share every aspect of their lives on these platforms, including information about where they work and go to school. While this may seem harmless, the growth in artificial intelligence technology gives cybercriminals access to a wealth of knowledge for finding their next target.

In the face of these increased risks and vulnerabilities, educational systems often lack the necessary resources to mitigate cyberattacks. The average school spends less than 8 percent of its IT budget on cybersecurity, and 1 in 5 schools commit less than 1 percent.

DIVE DEEPER: Get the most bang for your ESSER buck with these solutions.

Without safeguards, districts will continue to endure the consequences of attacks that stem from human error, made worse by IT departments that are too strapped to manage complex technologies appropriately.

Instead, IT leaders must implement proactive measures to ensure student and staff data remains safe and unchangeable.

Schools Need Preventive Security Protections as Ransomware Evolves

Ransomware is advancing technologically. Cyberattackers are now able to use nearby microphones to execute acoustic attacks, capturing users’ keystrokes with a staggering 95 percent accuracy. Such technology could quickly evolve beyond predicting passwords to eavesdropping on text chats or exposing confidential data.

As schools embrace a wealth of devices and connectivity options, navigating the complexities of budgeting and cyber resiliency becomes even more daunting. Rather than remaining perpetual victims, schools can pivot to become the front line of defense against ransomware attacks.


The portion of its IT budget that the average school spends on cybersecurity

Source: MS-ISAC, “K–12 Report: A Cybersecurity Assessment of the 2021-2022 School Year,” November 2022

They can start by integrating cybersecurity best practices into training and professional development sessions. Awareness is the first step in strengthening a security posture, and understanding the anatomy of these attacks can better equip users to thwart them. On top of this, IT leaders should ensure that, when building a healthy cybersecurity ecosystem, they access the tools currently in place and optimize their performance and functionality for security, recoverability and restoration.

To further enhance protection, schools should follow the 3-2-1-1-0 backup strategy: Maintain three copies of data on two different media types, with one of those copies stored offsite and one stored offline, and ensure your backups have zero errors.

Maintaining proper backups is a low-effort, economical element of a security strategy that educational institutions can implement to attain cyber resilience. Taking it a step further, schools should look for immutable backup solutions with hardened security and an appropriate level of redundancy for constrained IT teams.

The Benefits of Simple and Powerful Immutable Backup Storage

As we say goodbye to 2023, security teams must carefully examine which solutions will best protect them from data theft by bad actors. Most schools store their data in the cloud or in multicloud environments.

Click the banner below to begin your journey to stronger cloud storage.

While the cloud brings many advantages, even the most robust cloud security can be penetrable, making on-premises, zero-access backup storage critical to overall data protection strategies.

Schools must prioritize storing data in a separate and secure system to guarantee availability and accessibility. Investing in on-premises backup storage is necessary because of how well it protects data and backups with built-in zero-access immutability. This means no matter what, the data stored cannot be tampered with. On-premises immutable backup storage is a simple, powerful and secure tool that schools can use to remain ransomware-proof and guarantee recovery.

By combining immutable backup storage with the benefits of the cloud, schools can create a hybrid solution that offers all the flexibility of the cloud with the protection of localized, scalable, reliable and immutable backup options. Moreover, immutable backup provides the necessary performance to instantly recover any data that is no longer accessible on servers.

By adopting this hybrid approach, institutions can harness the advantages of data accessibility, both on-premises and in the cloud, offering secure, user-friendly and cost-effective solutions for data management and storage.

Don’t Make the Same Security Mistakes in 2024

With the increasing prevalence of ransomware attacks, the risk of cybercriminals targeting primary data and backups is rising. By creating a highly secure environment that leverages the benefits of immutable backup, school IT leaders will be able to guarantee that, no matter what, school data will remain untouched and tamper-proof. In the upcoming year, outsmart bad actors by making data backup a critical element of your overall cybersecurity strategy, rather than an afterthought.

UP NEXT: Learn how Backup as a Service boosts data protection.

mrPliskin/Getty Images

Become an Insider

Unlock white papers, personalized recommendations and other premium content for an in-depth look at evolving IT