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Lessons to be learned from cyberattacks hitting UK schools (Includes interview)

A child in school. - Igor I. Solar
A child in school. - Igor I. Solar

In March 2021, 15 schools in Nottinghamshire, U.K. reported they were rendered incapable of delivering online learning for students after a cyberattack forced the education system to shut down all communication to investigate whether or not the cybercriminals accessed the central network infrastructure. This represents another assault on the education system by malicious actors.

According to Nova Education Trust, a threat actor was able to access the trust’s central network infrastructure. The incident means that every device in every school impacted now needs to be digitally ‘cleaned’ and reset prior to staff and student use.

Looking at the issue for Digital Journal is James Carder, CSO at LogRhythm.

According to Carder there is a reason why educational institutions are in the cyber-spotlight. He notes: “This incident is a reminder that schools are still a top target for bad actors as students and teachers continue in-person and remote learning. As we have witnessed over the past year, threat actors are still at large — finding ways to gain control and bring organizations to their knees.”

The vulnerability is also a product of these times, as Carder finds: “The increased reliance on e-learning has made schools around the world an even bigger target of opportunity than before. If the technology is taken down, education can come to a complete halt.”

Carder feels that cybersecurity considerations have been introduced too late: “Because of the increased demand and rapid adoption of remote learning systems, cybersecurity was likely an afterthought as these systems were brought up quickly and out of crisis. It is more crucial than ever that school districts take a proactive approach and invest in cybersecurity solutions that automatically detect malicious behavior and enable network infrastructure to block any further access attempts.”

The rise in attacks upon schools and colleges should act as a salutary reminder that any public facing body is vulnerable. According to Carder: “Cybersecurity is not just for large companies and should be appropriately funded at the state and local government level to ensure that our children can learn without disruption.”

A colleague of Carder’s – Geoff Mattson, Senior Vice President of Product at LogRhythm – recommends the use of Network Detection and Response (NDR) as a part of a robust, defense-in-depth posture. This is a solution that schools and local government agencies can consider.

Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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