IT | Security

4 Ways to Protect Your School from Ransomware

By: Steven Spadaccini | 10/6/2020 | 3 min read

Children are returning to school and they aren’t coming back alone—ransomware is coming back to school too. Ransomware attacks on K-12 schools have been on the rise in 2020. The UK National Cyber Security Centre alerted schools and parents to increasing threats to schools and students, and as the school year kicked off, schools from Connecticut to Nevada to California suffered ransomware and Zoom-bombing attacks within the first days of school. Schools in one East Texas district were forced to delay the start of the school year when ransomware locked them out of everything from student records to email and lesson plans.

Attacking K-12 schools—and universities, as Simon Fraser University experienced recently—diverges from the established pattern of attackers going after businesses with deep pockets. With the sudden influx of funding for remote learning—schools are now attractive targets for hackers. The increase in attacks brings up an unfortunate dilemma for schools and attackers—if your school is ransomed, how do you respond? And could it have been prevented in the first place?

If your school is in the midst of a ransomware attack, and if you haven’t planned ahead, you have little choice but to pay the ransom. But if you haven’t been attacked, now is the time to protect your network, educate people about the risks, and improve your security posture to thwart attacks before they can get a foothold.

See and control every device

Detecting ransomware attacks in schools requires dedicated attention to your network, systems, and security procedures. Without a security mindset, you give attackers plenty of ways to attack your systems. If you don’t have a handle on all the endpoints on your network—laptops, mobile devices, and IoT—attackers will exploit any machine without security software or unpatched vulnerabilities. If an attacker has multiple systems to attack their attack surface is larger and success rate is significantly higher.

Absolute has solutions especially for K-12 environments, but more importantly here are four things you can do to protect your school from ransomware and other attacks:

  1. Watch for unusual activity on seldom used endpoints. This means you have to have a good handle on all the endpoints on your network. Once you have visibility over all the endpoints on the network, you can look for suspicious behavior or spikes in connections on devices usually quiet.
  2. Keep endpoint security software—antivirus, anti-malware, VPN software, and/or disk encryption—are active and up-to-date on all devices. These critical pieces of software should be self-healing and keep endpoints secure and compliant with your security policies without you needing to intervene.
  3. Develop a security policy that restricts the geo-location of your endpoints. If a laptop is lost or stolen, a tight geo-location policy will alert you if the device is out of bounds and you can lock it down or erase it. Lost and stolen laptops have critical security and personal information on them that attackers will use against your endpoints and network.
  4. Ensure hard disks are encrypted. This reduces the likelihood potential hackers can get information off them. Together with procedures to locate and erase devices no matter where they are, you reduce the attack surfaces available to attackers and have peace of mind that sensitive data won’t fall into the wrong hands.  

Not long ago, K-12 computer security was about ensuring students weren’t able to access inappropriate sites and content. Now that students have school-issued laptops and tablets that can leave school grounds and remote learning requiring connections into your network from outside (especially for teachers), the security threats you face have gone up exponentially.

Absolute is committed to helping schools and students connect securely and safely to the resources they need. We’re here to help already overtaxed network administrators secure and protect their school networks from the threats of ransomware, malware, and other attacks on systems.

Learn more about Education solutions from Absolute and new, enhanced support for remote learning and working. Request a personalized demo today.