There are few industries that need to place a greater priority on cyber security and protecting themselves from outside hackers than the education industry. The amount of personal information stored onsite—including financial records, medical records, social security numbers and more—makes these financial institutions, sadly, prime targets to those outside parties who wish to steal it for personal gain.
Therefore, the industry needs to understand the level of this threat and the ways to safeguard against it, and it needs to be taught far and wide throughout all levels of the education sector. After all, these institutions are responsible for the next generation of people and their well-being, and like it or not, they are involved in a war on cyber threats right now and need to be part of the solution.
The unfortunate reality in the battle to keep our records and personal data safe from cyber thieves is this: the biggest weakness that exists in staying protected is the people themselves. Whether it is an issue of being too trusting, too unaware or too uneducated on proper safeguards, that is what usually leads to institutions being hacked and personal data falling into the wrong hands. Most attacks tend to be carried out through phishing, where a user inadvertently lets an attacker in through the front door, and this almost always happens because of a general lack of awareness.
That’s why educational institutions need to be doing more to teach this to their employees, staff and students; by doing so, they can take a major step in mitigating against a future attack. There are three key steps that need to be taken.
This needs to be required at all educational institutions at every staffing and faculty level. People need to be made aware of the severity of the threat as well as the reality of it and the likelihood of people attempting to hack into their system. It’s no longer safe to think, “This probably won’t happen to me.” Thinking that way only enables those looking to cause harm.
This takes general awareness to the next level, where specific training as to the types of threats that exist is given, in order for people to know exactly what a cyber threat could look like. Learning the tell-tale signs of phishing scams, fake emails and other predatory practices doesn’t take long, and the knowledge providing by this training is invaluable.
Once users are provided training into why threats exist and what they are, now is the time to put best practices in place institution-wide, to ensure everyone is on the same page of what to do and what not to do. This means specific rules concerning online access for everyone to follow. It means encryption of all sensitive material, rendering it useless in case someone does actually gain access to it. It means a frequent updating of passwords and testing of security protocols. And it means users knowing exactly what to do and how to report it when they see a suspicious email arrive. Having a written list of policies in place, along with internal protective measures, is critical in an educational institution protecting itself.
A cyber attack can be both highly traumatic to the individual and highly damaging to the institution; the harm an attack can cause is often long-lasting and costly. But the good news is by taking these steps and truly becoming educated in cyber security, institutions can give themselves the peace of mind of knowing they are protected.