Developing A Strategy For Protecting Against Ransomware Attacks In Higher Education

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Higher education institutions find themselves caught in the intricate web of ransomware attacks, wherein cyber attackers encrypt data, block access, and subsequently demand a ransom for access to their data. 

With ransomware attacks on the rise, higher education has emerged as a major target. A survey conducted by cybersecurity company Sophos revealed a startling jump from 44% of education organizations experiencing a ransomware attack in 2021 to 64% in 2022.

Higher Education’s Current Vulnerability Against Ransomware Attacks

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Ransomware attacks represent a major problem for higher education. Today, higher education’s 64% attack rate is in line with the global average across sectors of 66%, with higher education being uniquely vulnerable. Attackers successfully encrypted data during 74% of higher education ransomware attacks, compared with a global average rate of 65%. 

Nearly all higher education organizations targeted by ransomware attacks acknowledged the detrimental effect on their operational capabilities and financial health. In fact, the impact of ransomware attacks on higher education ranked above every other sector

Additionally, colleges and universities reported the slowest recovery time after a ransomware attack of any sector. A notable 40% of higher education institutions took over a month to recover, which is double the global average recovery time.

What does that mean for higher education? Colleges and universities need stronger defenses against ransomware attacks. 

What To Consider When Developing A Ransomware Attack Protection Strategy

A strong protection strategy starts with a comprehensive risk assessment and next-generation security solutions.

Performing a Comprehensive Cyber Risk Assessment

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A comprehensive cyber risk assessment identifies your organization’s key assets and weaknesses in your cybersecurity. It thoroughly evaluates vulnerabilities and risks to help colleges secure sensitive data and implement a cyber attack policy. 

Post-assessment, higher education institutions can create action plans to eliminate security risks, implement IT security systems, and improve IT regulatory compliance.

Implementing a Multi-Factor Authentication Security Solution

Across sectors, many organizations rely on multi-factor authentication (MFA) to secure sensitive data. Colleges and universities can also benefit from MFA security solutions.In an era where password protection alone falls short, MFA stands as a gatekeeper. Instead of granting access to unauthorized users, MFA confirms logins and prevents malware by necessitating users verify their identity through verification codes, key fobs, or other registered devices, thereby mitigating unauthorized access.

Focusing on Endpoint Security Measures

Endpoint security disrupts ransomware attacks. These security measures focus on endpoints – the devices used to access systems. Given the plethora of endpoints, where students connect to networks using personal devices and campus technology, each opens a new gateway for attackers. Endpoint security aims to barricade these entry points against cyber attacks. 

This involves employing various protection measures, such as email gateways that block phishing or social engineering attempts, disk encryption, and software that detects zero-day threats. 

Maintaining and Updating a Disaster Recovery Plan

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With half of higher education organizations admitting to paying a ransom to recover encrypted data last year, maintaining and updating a disaster recovery plan becomes crucial in averting payment to attackers.

A disaster recovery plan involves formulating clear policies on data recovery, managing operational downtime, and implementing backups. To ensure efficiency, colleges must regularly test and safeguard their data recovery mechanisms and backup files. 

Developing A Prevention & Recovery Readiness Policy

While prevention is paramount, preparedness for recovery is equally vital in managing ransomware attacks. 

Colleges and universities must not only develop and test prevention policies, but also build a recovery response team, prepping for the palpable threat of a ransomware attack.

This entails creating a ransomware plan that addresses backup policies, fortifies IT security defenses, and defines response actions, while bringing together a team dedicated to prevention and recovery. 

Continuously Training Users on Best Security Practices

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As ransomware attacks grow more complex, so must security practices. Organizations need to constantly update their policies and ensure their community stays informed and adept..

Within higher education, this involves continuous training on security practices to the diverse user base—comprising students, faculty, and staff—ensuring each segment is equipped with knowledge catered to theirunique needs and capabilities.

Start Developing A Strategy With The IT Strategy Consultants At Hartman Executive Advisors

With ransomware and other cyber attacks on the rise, higher education institutions need to ensure they are taking the appropriate precautionary measures to protect and prepare for a security incident.  Ransomware incidents don’t merely pose a tangible risk to data but can also inflict lasting damage to your school’s reputation and expose your organization to legal liability. 

In a world where cyber threats and protective measures are constantly changing, it’s hard to keep up on everything and be an accountable cyber expert.  The CISO advisors at Hartman Executive Advisors specialize in this so you don’t have to.  Our team of experienced cyber advisors provide expertise and leadership to help higher education institutions develop and execute a robust cybersecurity strategy. Contact us today to learn more about protecting your institution from the growing threat of cyber attacks.

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