Cyberattacks have become a common occurrence in the last few years. This has led to academic institutions taking cybersecurity more seriously to avoid financial and data losses. However, some cunning hackers will still find a loophole and infiltrate a system, and this is where cyber-resilience comes in. Some people use cyber-resilience and cybersecurity strategies interchangeably, but there are differences.
Differences between cybersecurity strategy and cyber-resilience
Cybersecurity strategy is the actions that a school or university takes to prevent hacking into their IT systems. At the same time, cyber-resilience refers to the institutions’ ability to keep operating, even in the face of cyber-attacks.
Cybersecurity strategy includes processes and technologies built to protect data, networks, and systems from cyber-attacks. All cybersecurity strategies should consist of a continuity plan that allows the institution to continue operating in a successful cyber-attack event.
Cyber resilience includes a wide range of cybersecurity activities, regular operations continuity, risk prevention, and institution resilience. By being cyber-resilient, a school becomes agile and intelligent to handle both actual and potential cyber-attacks and mitigate the attacks and system compromise. Also Read – Convert decimal to fraction: Step by Step Guide
Cyber resilience becomes crucial for an institution when attacks happen because it can bounce back and continue offering its normal operations while it resolves the issue.
Cyber risks faced by companies
It has been made aware that schools are facing various types of cybersecurity threats. Reports also highlight that K-12 schools should step up and prioritize cybersecurity. Let’s look at some common cyber risks.
Phishing is an attack that is one of the most common types of attack faced by schools. In this attack, the attacker impersonates a trusted contact by sending an email with a link or attachment. In the email, the attacker preys on the victim’s emotions, using this to dupe them into downloading the attachment or the malicious link. A teacher might receive an email purporting to be from the school administration. Clicking on the link immediately injects malware into the school’s entire network.
The link redirects the victim to a bogus site, asking the victim for sensitive information such as account details or passwords, or credentials. Since this form of attack targets humans rather than technology, it is tough to combat.
Ransomware is among the most common form of cyberattack and one that hits thousands of schools each year. Ransomware attacks involve making an institution’s data inaccessible by encrypting it. Hackers force the school administration to pay a ransom for them to receive a decryption key.
Ransomware leaves schools in a dilemma, whether to pay the hefty ransom and lose a lot of money or lose data and cripple their operations and leak students’ and teachers’ sensitive information. There is no guarantee that the criminals will hand over the decryption key after the ransom is paid.
Malware is another threat facing most academic institutions and includes various cyber threats such as viruses and trojans. It is a general term for malicious code created by hackers to destroy and steal data or gain unauthorized access to networks.
Malware infects networks when teachers, students, or the school administration download malicious files from websites, spam emails, or connect to infected networks or devices.
Cybersecurity Tools and Strategies
Institutions can protect themselves from cyber-attacks by:
1. Using encryption tools
One of the best ways to stay protected online is by using encryption tools such as VPNs (Virtual Private Networks). Organizations should consider using VPNs, which encrypt data using the AES-256-bit, which is an encryption standard used by US government agencies to secure data. This is especially important during remote teaching and learning, where we have less control over each student’s network security.
2. Risk management strategy
Risk management is done by identifying, assessing, and controlling an institution’s threats to its stored data. The risks could be from various sources such as natural disasters, accidents, strategic mismanagement, financial uncertainty, etc. Risk management encompasses five steps:
- Risk identification
- Risk analysis
- Risk evaluation or ranking
- Risk treatment/ resolution
- Risk monitoring and review
3. Staff training
Since humans are the weakest link in this cybersecurity equation, training the entire school staff in an institution is an excellent idea. The staff is trained on spot phishing scams, clicking on suspicious links or download attachments, setting strong passwords, etc.
How an academic institution can build a robust cyber resilience program
You can build a robust cyber-resilience program by:
1. Identifying all your sensitive data
Data such as student personal records, student payment information, school’s intellectual property, or financial records are sensitive. Each institution has stored sensitive data that is processed or transmitted in its academic operations such as student’s payment records, staff wage records, student transcripts, etc. As an institution, the school administration is obligated to protect this data, so the first step is to collate this data and its nature.
2. Define where you will store the data
Once you identify the sensitive data, you need to determine its storage location. It might be impossible to protect all devices within the school premises. Identify where the sensitive data is stored and put-up controls surrounding the data’s storage and transmission, ensuring only certain people are allowed to access the data.
3. Train your staff on cybersecurity
Cybersecurity is the whole institution’s responsibility, not just the IT department. If the staff, teachers, and students do not understand their role in protecting the sensitive data, they may put the whole school at risk, albeit unknowingly. The staff must be trained to identify and report phishing attempts and familiar with password management.
4. Use web filters and web monitoring programs
Web filters in K12 schools funded by the US government are required by law to use web filters. Web filters block any access to sites other than those allowed by the filters such as explicit content, suspicious sites, hate speech, etc. A web monitoring program enables the blocking of specific addresses and websites and protects school data. The programs allow the school admin to block content at different levels. For instance, you could secure more sites for students in classrooms than for the staff, and the administration could be allowed an open access level.
5. Engage a Trusted Partner
Due to limited and skilled staffing, cybersecurity is a significant challenge for most institutions. You can engage a third party with the resources and skills to perform risk assessments and penetration tests for the school. These tests are vital to obtaining an unbiased validation of the school’s cybersecurity program’s state and its effectiveness. You can also commission a trusted partner to install web filters and web monitoring programs.
In case of a breach, an academic institution is bound to lose more than just money and its reputation and possible lawsuits from parents and students if it is a higher learning institution. Cybersecurity strategies are the actions taken to protect an institution’s data. On top of these strategies, it pays to have cyber-resilience, which is the institution’s ability to keep steady in the face of a cyber-attack.
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