Why U.S. Colleges and Universities Are Susceptible to Ransomware Attacks

iQuanti: Cybercriminals are using ransomware to attack U.S. colleges and universities. And they show no signs of slowing down any time soon.

An independent survey of 499 IT decision-makers conducted by cybersecurity software company Sophos highlighted the impact of ransomware in the education sector in 2021. Notable findings from the survey included:

  • 44% of organizations were hit by ransomware in the past 12 months.
  • 58% of organizations hit by ransomware said cybercriminals encrypted their data.
  • The average ransom payment among education organizations totaled $112,435.
  • The total cost for rectifying a ransomware attack in the education sector was, on average, $2.73 million.

College and university administrators must consider ransomware attacks and the impact on their schools, faculty, students, and alumni. To do so, it helps to understand why cybercriminals launch ransomware attacks against higher education institutions. From here, college and university administrators can determine the best course of action to guard against a potential ransomware attack or other cyber threats.

4 Reasons Why Cybercriminals Launch Ransomware Attacks Against U.S. Colleges and Universities

1. There Is Fast and Easy Access to a Wealth of Personal Identifiable Information (PII).

Colleges and universities manage a wealth of PII, including social security numbers, credit histories, and myriad employee and alumni data. With ransomware, cybercriminals can breach college and university systems used to store and manage PII. After cybercriminals breach one of these systems, they can quickly and easily access PII and use it for identity theft and other malicious activities.

2. Faculty, Students, and Others Use a Wide Range of Devices. 

A typical college or university has many applications and systems in place. And these apps and systems are used by faculty, students, and many others. Yet, it only takes one person to inadvertently download a malicious file to launch a ransomware attack across a higher education institution's network. Once this ransomware attack is underway, cybercriminals may be able to instantly infect thousands of devices.

3. Colleges and Universities Lack Sufficient Security Tools.

Many colleges and universities have invested in cybersecurity. However, keeping all applications and systems up-to-date can be challenging for higher education institutions. Cybercriminals can search far and wide to identify gaps in a higher education institution's security posture. If they find one of these gaps, they can exploit it to launch a ransomware attack.

4. There Is No Cybersecurity Awareness Training.

Cybersecurity awareness training enables faculty, students, and others to stay up-to-date about cyber threats. But many colleges and universities do not provide cybersecurity awareness training programs, much less mandate them. The result: these schools miss out on opportunities to educate their communities about cyber threats. Worst of all, they can unwittingly help cybercriminals launch successful ransomware attacks.

How U.S. Colleges and Universities Can Guard Against Ransomware Attacks

You cannot stop cybercriminals from attempting to use ransomware to attack your college or university. However, there are many things you can do to protect against ransomware attacks, such as:

  • Require faculty, students, and others to change their login credentials regularly.
  • Leverage up-to-date security software and ensure it is installed across all college and university devices.
  • Use two-factor authentication for all college and university accounts; this requires multiple forms of verification to authenticate a user's identity.
  • Back up all sensitive documents and files and store them offsite.
  • Provide cybersecurity awareness training to faculty, students, and others.

Be proactive to guard against ransomware attacks. In doing so, you can ensure that your college or university can remain safe against ransomware attacks and other cyber threats.

Source: iQuanti, Inc.