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With the new school year beginning, experts in the UK are worried about potential cyberattacks.
The National Cyber Security Center has advised schools to be ready to defend against cyber threats and prevent disruption.
New year, new threats
Experts have said that so far the situation seems to be under control. However, their stance is that the beginning of the school year presents new opportunities for internet criminals.
Don Smith, vice president of Secureworks, told Sky News that new student and staff accounts, as well as schools’ stances on laptops and tablets, create new vulnerabilities.
He also said that the school devices teachers and students have taken home during the summer may have picked up infections and malware. This is especially the case if they’ve used them for social media and gaming.
Now when those devices are back in schools, they may cause various problems.
So far, there have only been a few reports of hacks this year.
On September 1, Debenham High School in Suffolk suffered an attack that took all of its computers offline. However, headteacher Simon Martin said there’s no evidence hackers stole any data.
On the same day, hackers also attacked the Highgate Wood School in London. The headteacher Patrick Cozier confirmed the incident. He said the school lost access to its IT systems, delaying the start of the new school year for six days.
Last September, six schools in Hertfordshire suffered cyberattacks within the first two weeks of the month.
78% of schools saw at least one type of cyber incident last year.
Why are schools a target?
Hackers don’t target educational institutions as much as businesses, but see them as easy targets with their defenses being less robust.
Proofpoint recently published a survey showing that 96% of the top 50 secondary schools in the UK are lagging behind when it comes to implementing the recommended and strictest level of DMARC protection.
Secureworks’ Don Smith also cited limited budgets and spending priorities as the main reasons why schools aren’t ready to deal with cyberattacks.
He stressed the importance of schools having basic digital hygiene for protecting sensitive data.
Smith pointed at software updates and two-factor authentication as the two components of a good defense system.
Lastly, he said that everyone, including teachers and students, should be reminded to use strong passwords, avoid suspicious mail, and recognize phishing attempts.
According to recent studies, one in seven 15-year-olds is at risk of falling for a phishing attack.
A research involving the University College London found that this increases to one in five among teens from disadvantaged backgrounds.