Due to the ongoing pandemic, life for students has been unpredictable at best throughout 2020, and education establishments have been making big changes to adapt to the situation. However, one thing is no more or less essential than it was pre-Covid: protecting school networks from cyber attacks.

Schools and universities were reminded of this just before the start of the new academic year, when Northumbria University was hit by a major cyber attack which caused a number of essential systems to be shut down.

With even large universities still vulnerable, the education sector is arguably a bigger target than ever for cyber criminals. With this in mind, schools and universities must understand how to safeguard their staff and students from malicious cyber attacks.

Manage your access levels

Of course, we’re not suggesting you shouldn’t trust your staff or students. It’s highly unlikely that a deliberate cyber attack will come from the inside. However, even innocent behaviour can place your network at risk. After all, research shows 95% of cyber attacks are caused by simple human error.

This is why schools and universities need to have measures in place to manager user access levels. All users should be given the minimum level of access necessary in order for them to carry out their work and/or learning. Additionally, all staff and student user accounts should be locked after the individual leaves permanently.

Use passphrases

Simply replacing letters with numbers and special characters is no longer as secure-a-method as you might think. As cyber criminals continue to adapt and overcome standard security measures, more secure organisations are switching from passwords to passphrases. Take a look at our graphic below and the advantage becomes clear.

, 4 ways to protect your school or university from a cyber attack

Ensure safe web browsing

Access to online resources has become an essential part of school and university learning. But with this increase in internet usage comes an increase in risks to your network’s security. No matter how innocent your staff and students’ web browsing activities may be, there is an ever-present risk of exposing your network to malware or spyware. Web filtering capabilities are, therefore, essential. This means giving your staff and students the ability to browse the web freely without the risk of accessing unsecure or harmful sites.

Protect your Emails

Phishing Emails are becoming increasingly common and sophisticated. These will often come under the guise of a senior member within your own organisation. But rather than appearing as easily-detectable generic scams, the content of these messages will be more personalised in order to fool the target.

This is something all businesses need to be wary of, but educational establishments must be especially aware as many have hundreds or even thousands of vulnerable students on their networks. Therefore, your establishment’s spam filters  must be secure and up to date. This will increase the fortitude of your staff and student inboxes and greatly reduce the risk of a harmful email making its’ way through.

For more information about how to protect your school or university, read the Department for Education’s latest guidance.

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