Schools are facing more cyberattacks than ever before

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Cyberattacks against schools have increased dramatically and this year has already seen almost as many incidents as the previous two years combined, according to Barracuda which analyzed data compiled by the K-12 Cybersecurity Resource Center (k-12 CRC) which has been tracking reported attacks against schools since 2016.

So far in 2019, there have been 301 attacks against schools compared to 124 in 2018 and 218 in 2017. However, these figures only account for reported cases and it is highly likely that additional cases either went unreported or even undetected as stealthy malware is used to steal information, participate in botnets or mine cryptocurrency.

In a recently published report from the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), it was revealed that 83 percent of 430 schools across the UK had experienced at least one cybersecurity incident even though 98 percent of schools used antivirus software and 99 percent had some sort of firewall protection.

By using a single source of open threat intelligence data a list of all known websites belonging to US and UK schools, researchers from Barracuda found 234 unique malware samples that tried to connect to school domain names. The firm also found 123 IP addresses with the same set of schools that had a negative reputation which could point to additional malicious activity.

Cyberattacks against schools

Barracuda's research found that data breaches (31%), malware (23%), phishing (13%), network or school infrastructure hacks (10%) and denial-of-service attacks (4%) were the most common threats targeting schools.

There are a number of reasons behind this increase in cyberattacks against schools including the fact that many school districts only have one or two IT personnel with no dedicated cybersecurity staff. The increase in school-issued devices in recent years is another factor as it has drastically expanded the attack surface along with the number of systems which need to be secured.

Phishing accounted for 13 percent of the incidents reported to the K-12 Cybersecurity Resource Center. However, the real number of phishing related incidents is probably much higher as phishing is unlikely to be reported in a school setting unless an incident occurs as a result or the campaign is large enough to warrant attention.

To better protect against cyberattacks, Barracuda recommends that schools increase their perimeter security through network firewalls, web filters and email protection, internal network security by keeping up with security patches and their incident response capabilities. Maintaining a capable IT security staff is also an essential step to preventing cyberattacks in the first place.

Anthony Spadafora

After working with the TechRadar Pro team for the last several years, Anthony is now the security and networking editor at Tom’s Guide where he covers everything from data breaches and ransomware gangs to the best way to cover your whole home or business with Wi-Fi. When not writing, you can find him tinkering with PCs and game consoles, managing cables and upgrading his smart home.