The poor state of cybersecurity in K-12 schools is making it too easy for criminals to conduct cyberattacks. As 2018 figures show, attacks are coming thick and fast. Action is needed to shore up security and keep cybercriminals at bay.

2018 Cyberattacks on K-12 Schools

Education has long been one of industries most commonly targeted by cybercriminals and 2018 was no exception. Last year there were several major cyberattacks on K12 schools that resulted in data theft and huge financial losses.

The 2018 State of K-12 Cybersecurity report from the K12 Cybersecurity Resource Center revealed 122 cyberattacks on K-12 schools were reported in 2018. 119 public K-12 education agencies in 38 states reported attacks. 60% of those cyberattacks resulted in the personal data of students being compromised.

North Dakota schools were hit particularly hard. In February 2018, one third of schools in the state experienced malware attacks. In many cases, the malware infections were the result of staff and students clicking on links in emails, visiting malicious websites, or opening malware-laced email attachments.

The 2019 State of Malware report from Malwarebytes reveals that in 2018, education was the number one industry targeted with Trojans and was second for ransomware attacks. Business email compromise scams are also common and many K12 school districts suffered W-2 phishing attacks and were fooled into sending scammers copies of employees’ tax information.

There have also been several successful email scams that have resulted in staff being fooled into making fraudulent transfers of school funds to criminals’ accounts. A school district in Texas was scammed out of $2 million in construction funds as a result of a phishing attack that fooled a staff member into making payments to fraudulent accounts. The high number of these types of scams prompted the FBI to issue a warning to schools in September 2018 about phishing scams that attempt to steal employees’ credentials.

K-12 schools are an attractive target for cybercriminals because attacks are relatively easy and the potential rewards are high. Student information sells for big bucks on the black market. Personal information along with Social Security numbers can be used for identity theft. It typically takes longer for identity theft to be detected with minors. If student data are stolen, thieves can rack up huge debts in students’ names over the course of several years before fraud is detected.

The State of Cybersecurity in K-12 Schools

Even though the risk of cyberattacks is high, many school leaders fail to appreciate the seriousness of the problem and how even simple changes to improve cybersecurity in K-12 schools can prevent most cyberattacks.

A Consortium for School Networking/Education Week Research Center survey in late 2017 showed that only 48% of school leaders considered the threat from phishing to be significant or very significant, with the numbers falling to under 30% for malware and ransomware attacks. Only 15% of K-12 schools have implemented a cybersecurity plan, just 29% have purchased cybersecurity products and services, and 31% had not provided end-user training.

The high value of student data, the opportunity to conduct multiple types of fraud, and poor cybersecurity defenses is a winning combination for cybercriminals. Unfortunately, there is no single solution that can be implemented to improve cybersecurity and prevent costly cyberattacks and data breaches. What is needed is an effective cybersecurity plan, policies and procedures, training, and technology.

How to Improve Cybersecurity in K-12 Schools

School budgets are usually stretched so it can be difficult to find the funds to improve cybersecurity in K-12 schools. It is therefore important to choose cybersecurity solutions wisely and select products that provide protection against the most common methods used by cybercriminals to attack schools.

Many of the attacks start with a single phishing email. It is therefore critical for K12 schools to improve email security, and for that, an advanced spam filtering solution is essential. SpamTitan blocks more than 99.9% of spam and phishing emails and is an ideal, low-cost, easy-to-implement spam filtering solution for K12 schools.

A web filtering solution is also an important cybersecurity measure. In addition to blocking students’ access to obscene content, as required for CIPA compliance, web filters can prevent users from visiting phishing websites and will block ransomware and malware downloads. The cost of a web filter can be partially offset by discounts obtained through the E-rate program.

End user training is also important. K12 schools need to include cybersecurity awareness training as part of their staff development program. Rather than providing a one-off or annual training session, training needs to be conducted regularly to keep staff up to speed on the latest threats.

Doing nothing to improve cybersecurity in K-12 schools is now simply not an option. If costly cyberattacks are to be avoided, is not improved, cybersecurity in K-12 schools must be improved.

If you want to find out more about email and web security and just how affordable these solutions can be for schools, contact the TitanHQ team today.