Despite what the headlines may suggest, hackers are not just going after large firms like Sony and Home Depot. Increasingly, every type of organization is now under threat from malicious intruders, and that includes K-12 schools. According to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, hackers and other malicious actors exposed more than 1 million records from educational institutions in 2014, with another 1,900 records being improperly revealed by insiders that year. This is likely only scratching the surface too, as some schools do not report when they have been hacked nor do they always reveal the number of records exposed in a leak.
As the following incidents illustrate, the kinds of threats schools face today can be quite varied:
- In late March, Algerian hacking group Team System DZ hacked the home page of Ascension Episcopal High School, located in Lafayette Parish, Louisiana, KLFY News reported. The hackers defaced the site by exploiting a hole in WordPress and placing on the home page a message in support of ISIS, and it took the school approximately two hours to restore their website back to normal.
- Earlier this year in January, hackers purportedly part of the group known as Zulu Squad FTW took down the website of Oakleaf High School in Florida, according to News4Jax. The hack disabled their website for around 12 hours, preventing students and their parents from accessing grades and assignments via an online portal.
- Last October, a phishing scam allowed hackers to compromise the Provo City School District in Utah, putting information on approximately 1,037 district employees at risk in the process, ABC affiliate KTVX reported.
- Two high school students in suburban Chicago were able to circumvent the firewall used by Bartlett High School and install a keylogging program. This enabled them to capture the login details and passwords of school officials, which then enabled them to alter attendance records and access some faculty email accounts, according to the Daily Herald. In January, the duo was charged for their crime.
- In late March, Swedesboro Woolwich School District's entire network was taken down by malware that their antivirus solution failed to detect, ABC affiliate WPVI reported. The hack completely destabilized the New Jersey district, temporarily preventing anyone from accessing files, email accounts and their computer-based testing system.
How can schools respond to these threats?
These above examples illustrate just how varied the kinds of threats schools now face really are. In particular, the last two stories show that legacy cybersecurity protection methods like firewalls and antivirus software no longer cut it today. Instead of trying in vain to prevent hacks from happening, schools should assume they will be compromised at one point or another if they have not been targeted already.
But, just because district networks will eventually be hacked does not mean school authorities have no steps of recourse. By adopting a managed SIEM solution, however, schools can have their networks monitored in real time for any issues. That way, as soon as a problem is spotted school authorities can take steps to resolve it before major damage occurs.
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