The education sector is a prime target for cyber attackers – with schools, colleges, and universities among the most common targets of cyber attacks in recent years.

Like most sectors, education has undergone significant changes in recent years. Expanding IT networks to meet the demands of remote work & distance learning have revealed new vulnerabilities within the security of education centres, which cyber criminals can take advantage of. 


Why is education targeted? 

Education centres are often cybercrime targets due to the sensitive data held in their records. By gaining access to confidential information and threatening to leak details such as pupil names and addresses, hackers can leverage huge payouts from schools, colleges, and universities.  


Safeguarding this information, and the students it encompasses, is one of the central responsibilities of education centres. Allowing this data to be compromised is likely to incur legal repercussions, fines, and damage to the reputation of these organisations, all of which acts as an incentive to payout any fees demanded by the cyber criminals involved. 


Disruption caused by cyber security breaches can also bring education centres to a halt for days at a time while their IT systems are repaired/rebuilt. This break in routine can again open pathways for cyber criminals to access and abuse confidential information. 


Types of Attacks 

Cybercriminals employ many different tactics when attempting to maliciously access information from education centres. Most notably, attackers use social engineering techniques such as spear phishing. This involves approaching staff members via email with messages to trick their target into sharing login details, student records, or other confidential information. 


Successful phishing attacks can also open the door to lateral phishing attacks, using the domain of the initial victim to distribute further malicious email attacks to other contacts in their institution.  


Another common vector of cyber attack is ransomware, a type of malware delivered through a malicious link or attachment in an email from a seemingly trustworthy sender. Clicking the link or attachment automatically downloads the ransomware, allowing hackers to access the schools IT network where they can then encrypt any essential data to hold at ransom until the institution agrees to pay a fee for the data’s safe return. 

Education Blog Diagram v2


What can be done to improve security? 

One of the most effective modes of defending mailboxes at scale is to implement a multi-layered email protection system – such as Barracuda Total Email Protection – to identify and defend against malicious email attacks automatically. 


These systems offer protection across both inbound and outbound messages, vastly reducing an organisations vulnerability to email attacks with a combination of Mail Scanning, Advanced Threat Protection, and Behavioural Analysis powered by artificial intelligence. 


Further, a multi-layered email protection stack can include data loss prevention tools which can keep an organisations email & data archive safe in the event of a cyber-attack. Barracuda’s Total Email Protection service includes both backups to local hardware or to secure off-site cloud storage, to match the requirements of the institution. 

 Find out more about Total Email Protection

However, it is also essential to keep staff well trained in any business relying on email-based communications. Staff Awareness Training is a key element of effective email protection for organisations of any size.


Whether it’s a complete email security seminar or a simple handbook with best practice tips, a small amount of awareness can prevent endless problems for an educational institution.  


What measures do you take to protect your organisation from email-based cyber threats?