Cyber Security in Education: Challenges You May Face and How to Start Solving Them

Cyber Security shield and lock graphic

Education and the Education Services industries have unique cyber risks that should be a top priority at the start of each summer as schools and educational entities prepare for the upcoming school year. Due to the unique mix of employees spanning multiple generations, and a student body that may not understand the risk of internet use, schools and their vendors have additional challenges when trying to manage their cyber risk.

What Are the Top Cyber Security Risks in the Education Industry?

When managing an information security program at a school district, being able to identify the unique risks that each population poses is vital to your success. Below outlines the top risks that educational entities may face and how to mitigate the risk of each.

Cyber Risk from the Student Body

Online Bullying and Harassment: Students may face online bullying and harassment through social media platforms, online forums, or messaging apps.

  • Develop and enforce policies that promote a safe and respectful online environment.
  • Implement monitoring systems to identify and address instances of cyberbullying.
  • Educate students about responsible online behavior, including the importance of reporting incidents to trusted adults.
  • Establish channels for students to report cyberbullying anonymously.

Inappropriate Content and Online Predators: Students may encounter inappropriate content or meet online predators while browsing the internet or using social media.

  • Implement web and content filtering solutions to block access to inappropriate websites and materials.
  • Educate students about the potential risks of sharing personal information online and interacting with strangers.
  • Encourage open communication between students, parents, and teachers to report any concerning incidents or encounters.
  • Provide age-appropriate digital citizenship training to promote responsible online behavior.

Data Privacy and Security: Students' personal information, such as contact details and academic records, may be at risk of unauthorized access or exposure.

  • Implement robust data protection measures, including encryption and access controls, to safeguard student information.
  • Develop and enforce strict privacy policies to regulate the collection, storage, and sharing of student data.
  • Regularly conduct audits to ensure compliance with data protection regulations.
  • Educate students about the importance of protecting their personal information and using secure online practices.

Device and Application Security: Students' devices, including laptops, tablets, and smartphones, may be vulnerable to malware, unauthorized access, or unsafe applications.

  • Encourage students to use strong, unique passwords for their devices and online accounts.
  • Promote regular software updates and patches to ensure devices are protected against known vulnerabilities.
  • Remove all admin privileges from student devices to ensure there are no unauthorized installations or alterations to device configuration.
  • Implement mobile device management (MDM) solutions to enforce security policies and remotely manage and monitor student devices.

Staff and Operational Cyber Risks

Phishing and Social Engineering Attacks: Can trick staff members into revealing sensitive information or granting unauthorized access to systems.

  • Implement comprehensive security awareness training programs to educate staff about phishing and social engineering techniques.
  • Deploy email filtering and spam detection systems to prevent malicious emails from reaching users.
  • Enable multi-factor authentication for all critical systems and accounts.

Ransomware Attacks: Can encrypt critical data and systems, causing significant disruption to the school district's operations. Mitigation:

  • Regularly back up critical data, maintain offline backups, and test restoration processes.
  • Implement robust endpoint protection solutions, including antivirus software and host intrusion prevention systems.
  • Segment the network to contain the spread of ransomware.
  • Develop an incident response plan and regularly conduct tabletop exercises to ensure preparedness.

Insider Threats: Risks involve intentional or unintentional actions by employees or contractors that could compromise the confidentiality, integrity, or availability of data and systems.

  • Implement user access controls and least privilege principles to restrict access based on job roles and responsibilities.
  • Conduct thorough background checks for employees and contractors with access to sensitive systems and data.
  • Regularly monitor and audit user activities to detect any suspicious or unauthorized behavior. Implementing a Data Loss Prevention solution and work with your legal team to develop a Privacy Program.
  • Provide ongoing security awareness training to staff, emphasizing the importance of data protection and the consequences of insider threats.

Weak Endpoint Security: Unprotected or poorly secured endpoints can be susceptible to malware, unauthorized access, and compromise.

  • Implement endpoint protection solutions, including robust antivirus software, firewalls, and intrusion detection/prevention systems. Recently, companies have begun implementing endpoint detection and response (EDR) tools that can help with detecting and mitigating the risk of loss for unauthorized access.
  • Enable automatic software updates and patches for all endpoints.
  • Implement strong password policies and multi-factor authentication.
  • Educate staff and students about safe web browsing practices and the importance of avoiding suspicious downloads or links.

Data Breaches: Can occur due to unauthorized access, hacking incidents, or stolen physical assets containing sensitive information.

  • Implement strong access controls and encryption mechanisms to protect sensitive data at rest and in transit.
  • Regularly conduct vulnerability assessments and penetration testing to identify and address potential vulnerabilities.
  • Develop an incident response plan that includes procedures for containing, investigating, and responding to data breaches.

It’s important to work directly with your insurance agent to ensure your specific situation and risks are appropriately identified and mitigated, whether that is through a reduction in frequency and severity or transferring the risk to another party.

Help Secure Your Business with Cyber Insurance

Our experienced team of cyber risk professionals understands the complex digital threat landscape businesses operate in. Learn more about our easy-to-understand cyber risk products designed to meet the differing needs of different small and mid-sized clients.

We’re Here to Help - Contact Our Loss Control Consultants Today

Great American’s team of Loss Control experts builds on years of experience to help businesses prepare for and stay protected from different types of loss. Interested in learning more? Talk to our team of experts.

For additional Loss Control Guidance, visit the Plan & Protect safety hub.

Loss Control Categories

Take proactive action to prepare for different types of loss.