Rise Of Ransomware: Protecting Campus Infrastructure, Portals, Apps, And Data in Higher Ed


Nearly two out of three colleges and universities experienced a ransomware attack in the past year, according to a 2022 survey. In 2021, 37% of organizations reported a ransomware attack, a number that ballooned to 66% in 2022. During that time, the average cost of a ransom attack increased to an astonishing $4.54 million. 

With the threat of ransomware growing, how can higher education institutions protect themselves from cyber attacks?  

Navigating and Outlining the Increasing Threat of Ransomware 

Cybersecurity concept person typing on laptop

What threat does ransomware pose? Unlike a data breach that steals private data, ransomware attacks prevent organizations from accessing their data. Attackers then hold that data hostage for a ransom. 

Ransomware attackers rely on increasingly complex techniques. Encrypting ransomware, for example, penetrates a network or system and encrypts data, making it impossible for organizations to access. Hackers then extort a ransom in exchange for access to the data. 

Higher Education Institutions Are Lucrative Targets for Cyber Attacks 

What makes higher education institutions a target for cyberattacks? While colleges and universities report ransomware attacks at similar rates to other industries, these attacks succeed more often against higher education institutions. 

Ransomware attacks against financial services organizations only succeeded 57% of the time  Healthcare organizations reported a 61% rate of data encryption. Higher ed, in contrast, saw ransomware attacks encrypting data in 74% of attacks. And half of those targets ultimately paid a ransom. 

As a result, cyber criminals see colleges and universities as lucrative targets.  

Ransomware attacks also caused more disruptions in higher education than other sectors – colleges reported the slowest recovery time after an attack. Even more troubling, higher education reported the highest average remediation cost, which reached $1.42 million in 2022.  

Lack of Security Visibility Increases Ransomware Risks for Institutions 

Cybercriminals know that many colleges and universities are using outdated security measures and out of date legacy systems, and they exploit this vulnerability. 

As institutions have adopted distance learning and embraced more digital campus technologies, vulnerabilities have increased due to there being more authorized users accessing networks and systems. More entry points also mean more opportunities for unauthorized users to gain access. 

Unauthorized Access to Confidential Information Has Major Implications 

Financial blows are only one form of harm from ransomware attacks. When hackers gain access to confidential information, it opens colleges and universities to legal and reputational consequences. 

Consider, for example, a ransomware attack that encrypts student information, including Social Security numbers and financial information. Victims can then seek legal action as a result of the school putting their data at risk. Then there is the reputational damage for a school that has fallen victim to a ransomware attack, and this type of damage has far-reaching consequences in academia. 

Implementing Preventive Measures to Reduce the Risk of Ransomware Attacks 

Higher education students in a classroom

Preventive measures can help colleges and universities reduce the risk of ransomware attacks and recover more quickly.  

Institutions must prioritize prevention while also mitigating cybersecurity risks. By implementing a unified approach and upgrading systems, colleges can protect themselves. 

Protecting Sensitive Data Requires a Unified Approach 

Ransomware attacks continue to grow in scale and complexity. That means higher education institutions need a unified approach to protect sensitive data. 

Prevention is key. Colleges and universities must invest in data backups while increasing security at entry points. Stronger password requirements combined with multi-factor authentication can stop ransomware attacks before they start. And IT security training for students, faculty, and staff can minimize vulnerabilities.  

Prevent and Mitigate Cyber Risks With Next-Generation Security Solutions 

Next-generation security solutions stay one step ahead of cyber attackers. Stricter verification requirements, limited privileges and access for authorized users, and security backups make it harder for cybercriminals to succeed. 

Both prevention and mitigation are key. This two-pronged approach can mean fewer ransomware attacks and less impact if an attack succeeds. 

Speak With Hartman to Learn More About Protecting Your Higher Education Systems From Ransomware 

The threat of ransomware is serious for higher education institutions. The CISO and IT security experts at Hartman can help assess your cybersecurity posture and develop a cyber strategy to strengthen your defense. Reach out now to discuss an IT security strategy for your institution.


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