Thomas Rich, Regional Channel Manager, SYNAQ.
South African schools face a double risk – one from the COVID-19 virus itself, and a second from a significant increase in cyber attacks that focus on schools because they present themselves as targets for cyber threats during a time when cloud-based services need the right email security and data protection strategy!
According to Thomas Rich, SYNAQ’s regional channel manager, as a SaaS messaging provider, SYNAQ has first-hand feedback and experience regarding the increasing cybersecurity risks schools face.
“Although cybersecurity attacks were rife in schools and universities before COVID, their vulnerability has increased over the past 18 months as the pandemic has forced schools to adapt to more frequent use of email and to online teaching methods, lessons or link-based assignments have made the IT infrastructure more complex. With over 90% of all cyber attacks launched via email, all of these interaction points present an increased level of risk if a school does not protect its staff, students and parents when interacting with email communication. on their email. platform, ”says Rich.
Recent incidents have included social engineering attacks on our local universities in Mpumalanga and link-based ransomware attacks on schools in the Eastern Cape that resulted in at least two of their data being locked down for more than a year. year. This is done by cyber criminals who use links that show a trusted website, but their unsuspecting email user is unaware of the malicious link and the attempt to access school or parent data which can then be encrypted and unlocked only with the attacker’s decryption key.
Specifically, an example of these attacks included a private KZN school, which was the subject of a spoofing attack in which an urgent COVID-19 fundraising email was sent by what looked like to the school principal and sent to all parents and members of the Old Boys Association. However, the principal knew nothing about the email sent and was the victim of social engineering or spoofing: the school’s email platform had been hacked and the principal’s email address had been hacked. been used to convey the bogus fundraising request for a seemingly worthy cause.
Rich says it’s not uncommon for hackers to use the email addresses of trusted or high-level employees to send fraudulent attacks because these email senders have good reputations and are worthy of credit. trust, providing cybercriminals with tremendous leverage to commit cyber fraud.
It is not only South African schools that are vulnerable; attacks on schools and other educational institutions are not new either. Research conducted in 2010 found that e-learning systems were already attracting the attention of cybercriminals who thrived on their ability to hack into these systems. Since then, our dependence on email and online platforms has become more complex and security requirements must be adopted as a priority.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic has proven to be a a boon for cybercriminals. Since the start of the pandemic, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center has reported a significant increase in cybersecurity incidents. Additionally, Google has reported a significant increase in COVID-19-related phishing attacks, which compound the challenge the company faces in processing more than 240 million spam messages daily.
The recently published 2021 State of Phishing Report highlighted the disastrous consequences of successful phishing attacks: 60% of affected organizations have lost data; 52% had compromised credentials or accounts; 47% were infected with ransomware; 29% were infected with malware; and 18% suffered financial losses.
According to FBI, phishing was the most common type of cybercrime in 2020, affecting 75% of organizations worldwide, with 96% of phishing attacks arriving via email.
South Africa has not been spared. Rich says that in the past 12 months, of the 2.65 billion emails handled by SYNAQ, 1.18 billion were a threat to our customers. This means that almost half of all mail processed presented some level of risk to the recipient and required a comprehensive email security service to effectively protect against the growing threat of viruses, malicious links, data leaks and breaches. phishing emails.
“Spam has always been the method of choice for delivering viruses. Schools, which heavily use free email services like Google and Outlook, have historically had high levels of spam. However, the increase in phishing, ransomware and compromised accounts in schools over the past 18 months has been significant as cybercriminals also exploit students who often ignore the dangers of clicking on links and attachments without scanning. adequate to confirm that the links are genuine and secure, ”says Rich.
Meanwhile, the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic has plunged schools into what was, for the most part, an unfamiliar environment. As they strived to get their entire community – students, staff and parents – online, few made sure they had the necessary security measures in place to protect their community, areas of the school and while ensuring that all computers on site are free of viruses.
Rich points out that the communication tools used by many schools – Zoom or Teams, for example – are susceptible to intervention because they are initiated by a link in an email. Fraudulent emails containing bogus e-course links, for example, could precipitate a ransomware attack. Give cybercriminals access to private information in the school database, including bank details, home addresses, ID numbers, cell phone numbers, etc. parents, committee members, donors, alumni, teachers and other staff pose a huge risk to be addressed.
Rich maintains that the most important step a school can take to protect against cyberattacks with a cloud-based computing mindset is to use the services of an email security provider that offers a full range. cloud-based email security tools. This should include advanced link protection tools that check for bogus or insecure links and validate links in emails as genuine or threatening.
He acknowledges that some schools might be reluctant to devote a portion of their tight budgets to this, but maintains that the cost of protecting his email platform should be viewed in the same way as the cost of insuring assets. school physics such as buildings, motor vehicles and teaching materials and on-site materials.
“This is especially important considering that the cost of a successful cyber attack could be substantial. Additionally, in terms of the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA), schools have the same risks and obligations as businesses as well as the responsibility to ensure that administrators, parents, and academics data is all secure and free. risk with mail protection. If our schools adopt email security strategies that match their budget requirements, the school will be free from cyber threats through email. It will also ensure an environment in which all email users are protected and conduct their transactions using clean email.
Fortunately, there are cost effective local solutions to protect email users from the risks associated with inbound and outbound mail flow. It is up to our training providers and local IT service providers to ensure protection by adopting a cloud-based email security provider. An email security provider can then monitor, block, notify, and manage email incidents based on their threat type while maintaining the integrity of the email domain used by the school. After all, email is the primary form of communication for our education providers and should be protected.
“Local schools and IT service providers need to work together to ensure the adoption of the best cybersecurity strategy, one that mitigates all cybersecurity threats while respecting the cost of service and the high level of protection that schools have. need, ”Rich concludes.
South African schools targeted by cybersecurity threats
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