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Ransomware Attacks Increasingly Target Public School Systems

So, why schools? The vast amount of personal information and lack of security make school systems some of the most sought after targets for ransomware in the country.

July 21, 2020

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So, why schools? The vast amount of personal information and lack of security make school systems some of the most sought after targets for ransomware in the country. Since 2016, there have been over 533 cyber incidents at schools in the United States alone, according to the K-12 Cybersecurity Resource Center. One case in Alabama even forced the school to delay the first day of school for some 6,400 students. And yet, many still do not properly invest in cybersecurity or IT as they should.

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“Most school systems, especially in small communities, do not have the resources to keep up with each generation of threats that bad actors come up with,” Dr. Vincze, a cybersecurity expert at George Washington University said. She goes on to say that most think, ‘It won’t happen to us’.

The fact is that most hacking attempts are not a singular hacker messing around in their mom’s basement, but are perpetrated by sophisticated and professional hacker groups, mostly based in Eastern Europe. They go after targets that have large amounts of private information with the goal of either selling this information to identity thieves or demanding a ransom in the form of cryptocurrency to return your data.

Most attacks start the same way, a simple email. A staff member opens said email that looks as if it comes from a legitimate source, such as a superior or school organization but it is actually infected with malware that threatens their entire system. Once the email is opened the virus is spread throughout the entire organization, rendering it useless until a ransom is paid.

Ransomware targets a systems endpoints or end-user, so having a plan in place to protect them is essential. An endpoint protection plan should include anti-malware, anti-spam, anti-phishing, and firewall software capabilities. This will help identify possible malware files that target your systems before it happens. Protection for your servers is also recommended to protect yourself from all angles.

Ransomware viruses can be downloaded directly from a website as well. To protect your webpage from also being infected, it is best to outsource your web hosting and management. A provider with a robust and secure infrastructure protocol will help prevent the spreading of ransomware through your own website. You will also want to upgrade to a modern browser such as Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox when browsing the internet.

One way school systems can protect themselves is by investing in a secure data back-up system. When the time comes that your system is taken over by ransomware, if you are continuously backing up your important information there is no need to pay the ransom to get your data back. The cost of a ransom can be well over $50,000, much higher than the cost of a proper recovery system.

IT expert at CDW-G, David Hutchins said, “Backups are the first defense to keep hackers from profiting from a ransomware attack.”

Other ways your school system can easily protect itself is to regularly update its software and anti-virus definitions. Not having up-to-date software is just as bad as having nothing at all, thousands of new viruses are found every day and not having an updated list of threats leaves your system open for them to slip through the cracks.

But what do you do if you are already infected? First thing, do not pay a ransom! Paying a hackers ransom proves to them that they won and also doesn’t guarantee you will even get use of your systems back. As long as their ransom attempts continue to be effective, they will continue their exploitation in the hopes of an easy payday.

Stay ahead of the threats by taking a realistic look at your systems and invest in an all-encompassing protection system so this doesn’t happen to you.

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