Online Education – How Cyber Criminals Profit From It

An unprecedented number of students, schoolchildren and teachers are involved in digital learning, giving the education system a real digitalization boost. The number of devices connecting to educational establishments' networks and systems, as well as the volume of access to online learning platforms, is also soaring. COVID-19 and the need for online education that comes with it have continued to expand the traditional cyber security threat landscape for schools and other educational establishments. In this blog article, you will discover why in education cyber attacks are posing a major threat, and what tips you can use to guarantee greater security, not just for you as an IT manager, but also for all the other individuals involved.

Cyber attacks on education against the backdrop of COVID-19

All over the world, education is becoming a target for hackers. The shift from face-to-face to online teaching makes this sector highly attractive to cyber criminals. Video conferencing with remote access and other platforms attract cyber criminals who are interested in all participants' sensitive data.


Figure: Check Point, increase in hacker attacks against educational establishments observed (Data 16.9.2020)

  1. The average weekly number of attacks within Europe increased by 24% (or nearly 800 attacks!) in July and August 2020, compared to May and June.

  2. The attacks in Europe were mostly aimed at information disclosure. Hackers primarily tried to obtain information about the systems that run websites, such as software distribution packages, security levels based on patches, and the version of all the programmes.

  3. If the servers and computers are in a university or school, the hackers have access not only to countless students' sensitive information, but also the ability to cause massive disruption to all operations.

For example, in England, the University of Newcastle was the victim of a ransomware attack, one that disabled its networks and IT systems and prevented them from communicating and working. As a result, 1,000 returning students had to manually register.

But there are also known cases in Switzerland. In the majority of cases, access was gained via phishing e-mails sent to members of the educational establishments, who subsequently passed on their access data.

Below, we take a closer look at the potential threats in the education sector, and the best practice to protect yourself and your organizations in the education area against attacks.

Where is the danger lurking?

Due to the rapid pace of the spread of the pandemic, many schools and colleges are continuing to heavily rely on e-mail communication for keeping everyone updated. Similarly, there is a lot of information available online via educational programmes and public-facing learning platforms. This makes it easy for cyber criminals to include pertinent details in a phishing e-mail, or to target schools with spear-phishing attack. The following facts pose a further risk:

    • Video chat and teleconferencing tools have seen an upswing during the Covid-19 crisis. However, there is a lot to consider when it comes to these tools' IT security. This was made abundantly clear in the example of Zoom (you are welcome to read this article about it).
    • Pupils, students, even teachers and administrators use their PCs, laptops, tablets and mobile phones for a range of tasks. They move around between different websites, portals and new programmes, exposing themselves to the risk of loading malware without even noticing. When they reconnect their personal devices to the school network, their compromised terminal can pass this malware on to others unnoticed.
    • There is another important security issue relating to home networks. For the most part, students use their home Wi-Fi router to connect their devices to the school network for online classes. If the owner has not configured the router, it can become the weakest link in the cyber security chain that protects every device on the home network and, by association, the network, data and applications of the school.
    • The human factor lso has a crucial role to play. Non-cautious, untrained users – and this includes non- IT-savvy pupils, students and teachers – pose a significant threat to education cyber security.

Our tips for IT departments and secure online teaching

  1. Software and operating systems: School IT departments as well as pupils and students themselves, should be regularly checking to see that their devices are running the latest versions of software and operating systems. Mobile device management (MDM) platforms ensure this. They can isolate compromised devices and perform security-related management functions on all devices simultaneously. It is compulsory to install effective anti-virus solutions.

  1. Protection against targeted phishing attacks: focus on strong security solutions that identify suspicious senders, requests and accesses. The following tools are best suited for this:

Download Phishing-Poster

Internal security policies: implement policies, send regular alerts and offer practical cyber security training. Schools would be well advised to actively address the issue of cyber security and bring IT experts on board. They can provide active support to you, the pupils and the students by giving them cyber security tips and answering important questions.            Contact us!

This means that the focus for IT managers will be on preparing for many anticipated attacks and consequently a continuing threat, given that educational institutions will be increasingly reliant on digital communication for the foreseeable future. However, by taking the measures outlined above, you can significantly reduce the risks of an attack in the education sector.


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Security Awareness , Cyber Risks

Jolanda Muff
About the author / Jolanda Muff

InfoGuard AG - Jolanda Muff, Marketing Manager

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