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Does remote working increase the risk to the Education sector?


Cyber-attacks against schools continue to be a concern across the Eastern region. The reasons for this are fairly simple:

  • Schools possess large quantities of high value and sensitive data that they may have to pay for to get back.

  • Schools networks and processes offer a lot of vulnerabilities through either underinvestment or weaknesses in their underlying processes. In many cases these vulnerabilities are caused by the necessity of having so many people and devices to attach to the network.


A number of education ransomware alerts have been published by the National Cyber Security Centre throughout 2020 and 2021, and more are expected over the coming year. 1000s of schools have been attacked over the past few years and many have resulted in long term problems for the organisations affected, including the staff, students and parents.


Whilst the rise in attacks was blamed partly on the pandemic and a rise in remote learning, the risk to schools will persist until they are provided with the tools to fight back. And these attacks are happening right now in our region. In the summer of 2021 a ransomware attack against schools in Kent actually caused several of them to close for several days whilst the data breach was resolved. And at the time of writing it is quickly becoming apparent that at least one school in Essex is currently experiencing an ongoing cyber-attack, and that data from its network has been published on the dark web!


Remote teaching and learning became the norm for millions of children during the pandemic, and even though we are all back to F2F learning again in schools, that is not the case in universities where for many, remote lectures will continue to remain. Schools and colleges have taken advantage of technology that allows staff to access remote working from home, and many teachers set up their classrooms using digital services. This led to a rapid surge in digital capabilities, services, and products across the sector. However, this digital response to the pandemic crisis has led to new cybersecurity risks and vulnerabilities. And attackers are looking to exploit the gaps that open up when agile employees use insecure networks and devices.



What are the main risks associated with homeworkers?

1. Phishing emails. Employees working remotely can be the largest threat to the security of your network. If they unknowingly follow poor cyber security practices, they might end up giving cybercriminals and hackers access to the network and sensitive data of the company.


Commonly, the hacker will send an email to trick the victim to login to a malicious website that looks exactly like the original website. Once the victim enters the required information, the attacker uses it to hack into an account and carry out identity fraud or steal more sensitive information. The phishing emails may look like from a person or organization you trust. It may be from a social media site, credit card company, streaming app, bank, or even a work colleague or supervisor.


2. Password Theft. Even when an organization uses firewalls, VPNs, and other cybersecurity software for protecting remote work, human error might come into play when employees safeguard the account using weak passwords.


Hackers can exploit human error to get past sophisticated security software. This is the reason they will try to crack the account passwords for accessing sensitive details. You won’t believe it, but twenty-three million people still use the password 123456.


Cybercriminals use different measures for cracking passwords. Often, the hackers design codes to crack a password by trying out various variants. Repeat password is another insecure practice that hackers try to exploit. As soon as the hackers crack the password to an account, they will try accessing other accounts with the same password. Employees repeating their passwords on various applications are at a higher risk of having their accounts hacked. This is particularly true for employees who use the same passwords across personal and work networks.


3. File Sharing. While companies might think of encrypting data that is stored on the corporate network, they might not consider encrypting data when it is in transit from one location to the other. This might result in employees sharing or remotely accessing sensitive details on a regular basis that the company is unable to secure from being intercepted by a hacker.


4. Personal Devices. Employees often don’t encrypt their own personal devices. Nevertheless, if work is conducted on personal mobile phones, such as logins or phone calls to business accounts, this may cause data breaches.


Some businesses provide their employees with work computers to remotely access the files and information. However, others allow remote employees to work on personal computers. This approach might leave company data at risk.


5. Home Wi-Fi. While companies generally think about securing the laptops of remote employees, many don’t consider the Wi-Fi networks that their employees are using at home. It might be posing a risk for their company data if it is not secure. Many people might update their antivirus or smartphone software. But many tend to overlook the updates of home router software. This can lead to network security gaps.


Can you protect yourself from these attacks?

Yes, you can. Here at the centre, we would advise a whole system or organisation approach to cybersecurity to maximise its effectiveness. That would include carrying out staff awareness sessions to make sure that staff know what to look for – to spot potential attacks, and to identify when an attack has been successfully carried out.


We would also recommend that organisations look at bringing in clear policies around cyber security so that all staff are aware of their responsibilities and what they should be doing to strengthen their remote working set-ups.


The impact of a successful attack against your website or network can be catastrophic and lead to website downtime, loss of business and loss of reputation. In the worst cases it can lead to the closure of the business altogether. But all is not lost.


So, what can I do?


Here at the centre, we would advise you to do three things now:-

  • Join our growing community by signing up to free core membership of the Eastern Cyber Resilience Centre. You will be supported through implementing the changes you need to make to protect your business and your customers.

  • For small and medium sized businesses in the Eastern region we would recommend that you look at improving you overall cyber resilience through the free Little Steps pathway we provide to Cyber Essentials – the basic government backed kite mark standard for cyber security. And remember that a company operating under Cyber Essentials processes is 99% protected either fully or partially from today’s common cyber-attacks.

  • Join the centre as a free member and we will take you as far as the CE accreditation process. And if you want to pay for the assessment, we can refer you one of our Trusted Partners – all regionally based cyber security companies that can help you become accredited.

  • We would also recommend that you speak to your Managed Service Provider and / or website company to discuss how they can implement cyber resilience measures on your behalf.


Reporting a live cyber-attack 24/7

​If you are a business, charity or other organisation which is currently suffering a live cyber-attack (in progress), please call Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 immediately. This service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.


Reporting a cyber-attack which isn't ongoing

Please report online to Action Fraud, the UK's national reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime. You can report cybercrime online at any time using the online reporting tool, which will guide you through simple questions to identify what has happened. Action Fraud advisors can also provide the help, support and advice you need.


Alternatively, you can call Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 (textphone 0300 123 2050).

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The contents of this website are provided for general information only and are not intended to replace specific professional advice relevant to your situation. The intention of The Cyber Resilience Centre for the East is to encourage cyber resilience by raising issues and disseminating information on the experiences and initiatives of others. Articles on the website cannot by their nature be comprehensive and may not reflect most recent legislation, practice, or application to your circumstances. The Cyber Resilience Centre for the East provides affordable services and Trusted Partners if you need specific support. For specific questions please contact us.

The Cyber Resilience Centre for the East does not accept any responsibility for any loss which may arise from reliance on information or materials published on this document. The Cyber Resilience Centre for the East is not responsible for the content of external internet sites that link to this site or which are linked from it.

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