Our ever-increasing reliance on the internet has made online scams somewhat inevitable. So pronounced are scams these days that every sector in the economy has become a target. Of all types of prevalent online scams, phishing scams are the most common. In 2019 alone, they were reported to have grown by about 65%. A major sector targeted by phishing campaigns is the educational sector.
Educational institutions might not at first glance seem like the most natural target of cyber scams. Still, they are vulnerable because of the pool of private information that schools have about their students.
Vulnerabilities of the Educational Sector
Educational institutions are arguably more prone to phishing scams than other institutions. Their attributes like inclusiveness and openness, which are paramount for learning, make them susceptible to cyberattacks and scams. Another reason for their vulnerability is the fact that many of its users are little children and teens.
Did you know that 1.3 million kids have their identity records stolen every year? These young people can be easily tricked into giving out discrete and sensitive information. They are usually unsuspecting and are unlikely to notice crimes even in their most obvious form.
It can be argued that this is only an issue in elementary and high schools. However, colleges and other higher institutions are also equally vulnerable for different reasons. Many higher institutions run insecure networks and do not use established protocols. Besides, students are allowed to use mobile devices that may contain malicious apps capable of phishing private information.
Ironically, many teachers lack the technical know-how or internet discipline to recognize online scams. According to a security survey conducted in 2016, workers in the educational sector are twice more likely to fall for an online scam than workers in a corporate company. Most educational institutions also do not have facilities designed for cyber crime response or intelligence.
Why Are Educational Institutions Targets?
Networks and databases used by educational institutions not only store data of their staff but of their students as well. The information mined from these networks can be further exploited for perpetrating financial crimes. It can also be sold on the black market or dark web to clients interested in using such information for fraudulent activities like identity fraud, for example.
Higher institutions are primarily targeted because they might store cutting-edge technology on their network that could be a target for companies looking to steal a patent for their selfish use. While many colleges and universities have seen themselves as primary targets and have consequently upped the security measures, others cannot do so due to a lack of funds. Therefore, they are restricted to a reliance on antimalware and antiviruses.
How Educational Institutions Are Targeted
As it is with most other industries or sectors, the principal tool in phishing scams is email. Cybercriminals are acquainting themselves with more sophisticated methods of defrauding unsuspecting victims and so should school authorities.
Ransomware attacks can target schools. This is where users can be locked out of their systems until a stated fee is paid as ransom. Attackers send an email containing a doc file that appears legitimate. They will ask school administrators to enter usernames and passwords, and then use this data to breach into the entire system.
It might come up as a surprise to see that educational institutions are a big target of cybercriminals, but they are just like most other sectors. Educational institutions should, therefore, set up security systems and train their staff so that they do not fall victim to the whims and caprices of these criminals.