Cybersecurity in Education: The Trends to Watch in 2024

Cybersecurity in Education: The Trends to Watch in 2024

Cybersecurity in education is becoming a critical concern for every institution. While digital attacks are increasing in every industry, thanks to the rise of new technologies (like AI for deepfakes), and a growing focus on digitisation, the educational sector faces more risks than most.

In fact, the UK Government’s Cyber Security Breach survey for 2023 found that all types of educational institution (from secondary schools to colleges) have been more likely to report a security breach or attack in the last 12 months than any other UK business.

Despite this, many facilities don’t have a robust cyber security plan in place. Although the majority of educators have taken measures to identify cyber risks, only half of higher and further education groups have a full security strategy.

To protect themselves, their faculty, and their students, educational groups need to understand the threats they face. More importantly, they need to see how those threats are evolving, and the trends influencing the future of cybersecurity in the industry.

What’s Causing the Increase in Cybersecurity Threats?

On a broad scale, the increasing demand for digital transformation in the educational sector is one of the factors leading to an increase in cybercrime. Educational groups, like many other organisations are rapidly shifting their processes into the cloud, and accessing new technologies for remote education, collaboration, and customer service.

However, it’s not just the need to innovate that’s impacting educational IT security. Some of the other main factors include:

Increasing data volumes: Data theft is common in the educational sector for a few reasons. First, schools collect a significant amount of personal data from students and staff, from phone numbers, to contact details. This makes their IT infrastructure more vulnerable to cyber attacks like phishing and fraud scams. Additionally, universities and higher educational institutions often conduct extensive research, creating intellectual property that can deliver high financial rewards to cyber criminals.
Budgetary constraints: Lack of funding is a major issue for educational institutions. Not only does it make it harder for groups to leverage the tools they need and hire the right staff members, but it means they struggle to purchase comprehensive security tools or outsource security to third parties. That’s one of the reasons why we work with educational groups at UC Advisor, to help them access the funding they need.
• Limited expertise: According to one survey, the education sector ranked last in terms of cybersecurity preparedness. Not only do many existing team members not have the training they need to mitigate attacks, but schools often struggle to hire cyber security experts. A lack of expertise leaves educators without the support and protection they need.

The Trends Affecting Cybersecurity in Education

Many of the trends affecting cybersecurity in education are similar to those influencing security initiatives in various other sectors. The threat landscape is growing in every industry, and criminals are growing increasingly sophisticated, using AI, automation, and cutting-edge technology to support their malicious activities.

However, there are some specific trends relevant to the education landscape that leaders should be aware of, particularly as they continue to build on their digital transformation strategies.

1. The Rise of Ransomware Attacks

Ransomware attacks have emerged as significant problems in the education sector. According to the State of Ransomware in Education report in 2023, the educational industry recorded a higher share of ransomware victims than any other sector.

In a ransomware attack, criminals block the access victims have to their own data, and only release that data when a ransom is paid. This doesn’t just have a financial impact on victims, it can also disrupt student education on a significant scale. Plus, ransomware can make it impossible for educators to access the resources they need to deliver lessons consistently.

Ultimately, protection against ransomware starts with the right data storage and disaster recovery strategy. Ensuring you have backups of your data, and keeping software and systems up to date, to patch vulnerabilities will be crucial. Additionally, security awareness training, delivered to all faculty will be essential to mitigating potential risks.

Students and staff should have a basic knowledge of how to detect and avoid ransomware attacks, to enhance cybersecurity in education.

2. Hybrid Work and Online Learning

As mentioned above, many educational institutions are now shifting into a cloud-focused strategy. The move to the cloud has a lot of benefits to offer, from increasing the access schools have to top talent around the world, to enabling hybrid and remote work, and empowering online education.

However, with more staff working from home, and students attending classes remotely, the areas in a school’s ecosystem prone to attacks are increasing. It’s easier for criminals to steal personal devices used for education than break into school facilities.

Additionally, faculty and students aren’t always aware of how to protect themselves when connecting to the internet, and accessing software on the cloud. Working with security vendors to implement comprehensive strategies for protection will be necessary here.

Schools can leverage secure VPNs for their team members, and enable multi-factor authentication and secure password management policies on as many systems and software as possible. Using access control solutions to limit who can access certain information and data can also help to reduce risk, allowing schools to take a “zero-trust” approach to network security.

3. Interconnected IT Architecture

As schools and educational institutions continue to evolve, thanks to trends like the rising demand for remote education and innovation, IT strategies are changing. Many groups have accelerated their shift to the cloud without a lot of time for prior planning. This has resulted in facilities using a mesh of interconnected services, combining on-premises, and cloud networks.

Unfortunately, this approach to cybersecurity in education poses a significant risk if one of the components in a school’s IT infrastructure fails. Ultimately, many educational groups will have to rethink their approach to leveraging new technologies and resources, and bridging the gaps between their solutions.

They’ll also need a more comprehensive strategy in place for monitoring and tracking potential risks. Leveraging automated solutions that can conduct penetration tests and vulnerability scans regularly can help to root out security oversights.
Additionally, designing a set of formal security policies, and consistently modifying and testing business continuity and disaster recovery plans, will help schools keep their infrastructure secure as they continue to evolve and embrace new technologies.

4. The Switch from Reactive to Proactive Security

Unfortunately, a lack of funding, and limited access to resources means that many schools are often stuck with a reactive approach to security. They might have backup plans and disaster recovery strategies in place, but they don’t have a consistent way to monitor for threats, or pre-emptively protect themselves against emerging risks.

A reactive approach, however, means that by the time schools have detected potential data breaches and attacks, the damage may have already been done. They could already be left with no opportunity but to pay ransoms to get their data back, or hire experts to recover lost files.

The easiest way to overcome this issue with cybersecurity in education is with a combination of both people and technology. First, schools need access to the right IT professionals to help them monitor cybersecurity risks, and implement proactive risk mitigation methods.

Unfortunately, since there’s a shortage of around 3.4 million professionals in the security space, and school budgets are often relatively low, it can be difficult for facilities to access the talent they need. The solution here could be to consider working with outsourced security professionals, who can offer budget-friendly solutions for risk monitoring and mitigation.

Secondly, implementing AI-driven and automated tools can help schools fight back against risks, without hiring additional staff. Automated monitoring tools powered with AI can detect threats, implement policies, and even automatically backup data, without prompting.

5. Technology Innovation

Finally, innovation in the technology landscape is a trend that’s affecting every industry and business. It’s also something that has a significant impact on cybersecurity in education. The rise of extended reality in the educational sector, for instance, represents an opportunity for teachers to create immersive hands-on learning experiences that students can access from any environment.

However, leveraging the metaverse and the cloud to provide access to these experiences creates potential threats in the form of lost IP, and data breaches. Artificial Intelligence is another major technology trend that can benefit educators. AI solutions, particularly in the generative AI landscape, can provide both students and teachers with tools that improve productivity, enhance collaboration and communication, and boost creativity.

However, AI relies on access to large volumes of data to create unique tailored experiences, creating potential risks with data privacy and compliance. As schools continue to embrace these transformative solutions, a holistic plan for security will be crucial.

Leaders will need to ensure they’re working with vendors that follow ethical AI guidelines, implement encryption and access control protection into their platforms, and provide access to additional tools to help mitigate threats.

Managing Cybersecurity in Education for 2024

As the world becomes increasingly digital, every organisation is facing increased exposure to both new and existing cybersecurity risks and threats. This is particularly true in the educational sector, where schools are responsible for collecting and safeguarding huge amounts of data.

Unfortunately, schools can’t afford to ignore the need for digital transformation either. They need to be able to adapt and expand their IT infrastructure to boost internal collaboration, reduce operational costs, and improve student experiences.

The only way to consistently transform your ecosystem, and protect yourself from threats is to work with the right vendors. Expert cloud, security, and technology providers can offer access to a broad range of innovative tools designed to address the specific threats faced by educational institutions.

For help choosing the right vendors to power your strategy, check out our comprehensive comparison matrix, or contact the UC Advisor team, for step-by-step guidance.



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