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Even School Networks Need a Stronger Cybersecurity policy

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In the digital arms race, education and school-based IT networks are easily forgotten in the crossfire. They don’t often make headlines outside of breach events, and IT resources available to education networks are limited.

As such, IT needs to make use of what they can when available. The good news is, even with a limited budget, thwarting dangerous malware/cyberattacks is easily possible. Often human error is the primary offender of deadly breaches, so mitigating the factors leading to poor decisions is important. Implementing strategic guidelines and educating alumni and faculty also reduces the risk of breaches.

Does a school network really need to worry about cybersecurity? 

A deadly misunderstanding of cybersecurity is attackers only pursue “big targets.” Malicious entities priortize any data of worth or value to the victim(s). School networks and alumni, in fact, are particularly valuable, as they contain a dense layer of personal information from students and staff alike.

The implementation of wider remote learning resources also invites dangers. Hackers have a range of targets with e-learning and online courses, where users may not have a grasp of safe data practices. Therefore, assuming your school network won’t be a target of a cyberattack is a dangerous assumption.

Protecting education networks from malicious attack

Once again, the challenge for school-based IT is resource limitations. However, that doesn’t mean managing cybersecurity is impossible. Common problems, in fact, upend even the priciest cybersecurity investment. Just as small network size is not an indicator of safety, neither is a bloated IT budget.

There are several things a school network can do to better improve its security posture. The best part is, it’s rooted in common sense, caution, and low-cost solutions.

Better Password Management

Passwords sit in a difficult place these days, as complex logins are no longer enough on their own to thwart attacks. That’s because threat actors exploit social engineering schema to discover logins or otherwise bypass that first layer of security.

That doesn’t mean, however, complex passwords are a bad idea, and they’re effective enough that they absolutely should be implemented. New standards for passwords among every user, be that alumni accessing the network or faculty staff, need mandates. 12 characters with mixed symbols/letters that don’t use common names is a great starting point. If not already, it should be a requirement for anyone accessing IT resources or otherwise.

Multi-Factor Authentication

MFA has become a mainstay of standard security posture. Any form of MFA can, at least, provide an additional layer of protection for a school network. Multi-factor requires an additional security token at the time of login, usually from another device or email.

It isn’t always perfect. If hackers compromise an MFA email, they can still gain access to a network. If someone loses access to their MFA device, like an old phone, then logging in can become an enormous hassle. However, the benefits outweigh any risk or potential frustrations and are common characteristics of the best cybersecurity postures.

Standardize Firewalls and Anti-Virus

Modernized firewalls and updated anti-virus solutions are another given. A school network should have these installed on all relevant devices. Vendors typically offer school-specific versions designed for multiple modules.

Firewalls prevent intrusions from outside sources, and hybrid firewalls can set up different accessibility blocks for internal/external use. Furthermore, organizations are generally required to have some form of anti-malware installed to abide by security mandates and regulations. You risk a federal penalty by ignoring these very critical cybersecurity components.

Limit Network Permissions

It goes without saying, numerous users accessing devices should have limited access to what websites they’re allowed to visit. This is a common practice in most business-controlled networks as well.

Not all users exhibit safe behaviors, faculty or otherwise. It prevents issues like downloading dangerous files or visiting unsanctioned web domains. It’s also important to limit network permissions if your school network uses a guest login for available wifi (more common on college campuses).

Data Backup and BDR

BDR plans are a fundamental quality-of-life solution for any network, even education-based ones. A “backup disaster recovery” plan creates a set of rules in guidelines in case of data loss, failure, or breach. Depending on the scenario, what staff need to do will vary.

Furthermore, education networks concerned about data compromise should consider investing in data backup solutions. These do require investment and working with a vendor. But said vendor can provide powerful resources to safeguard information in case of catastrophic events. Said events are also not always malicious in nature. Hardware or server failure, storms, physical damage, and human error are several examples leading to potential data loss.

It is not necessary, but in a dynamic, changing environment, it’s highly recommended. It also keeps your data in the hands of professionals who can offer guidance about good data protection practices.

Resilience

The harder attackers have to work to “crack” their target, the less likely they’ll pursue it. That doesn’t mean malicious actors won’t try. But resilient architecture – a combination of all the defensive protocols we’ve talked about – will dissuade attackers from characterizing you as an easy target. They rely on unprepared school networks to achieve success.

Implement Training and Awareness

Above all, the best defense is awareness, assessment, and education. Aware staff and student alumni that know how to detect malicious attacks, like phishing, will better avoid it. Human error is the root of many cybersecurity fiascos, undoing even the most comprehensive defensive architecture. Providing resources for faculty to learn good practices is essential for long-term IT health.

These simple but effective, low-cost tips will protect your education network from even the most nefarious of cyberattack schemes. It’s important to emphasize resilience and good cybersecurity education standards, especially for networks with limited resources.

If you’re still struggling and want additional assistance, you can always reach out for help. For additional information, contact Bytagig today.

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