How Schools Can Guard Against Ransomware in 2020

Written by Megan Anderson on December 29, 2019

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In the first nine months of 2019, ransomware attacks hit over 500 U.S. schools. These attacks can freeze the systems of entire districts and campuses. Repairing the damage can cost more than $1 million. Without addressing IT security concerns, many more are likely to follow. Educational institutions can secure their networks for 2020 using the right tools.

Why Ransomware Hits Schools

From K-12 public school districts to Ivy League colleges, education was one of the top 10 industries hit by ransomware in 2019. Some educational institutions have a “it won’t happen to us” mentality, or they can’t afford to keep up with each new generation of threats. As a result, their systems are easier to compromise. Although many institutions are covered by insurance policies that can pay the ransom in full, it comes at a price. The institutions still have to pay a high deductible and exorbitant premiums, and in some cases, systems continue to be locked long after.

The best way to guard against such attacks is by training faculty and students in cybersecurity best practices and installing a strong, reliable anti-malware software on all owned devices. The former can be difficult to coordinate while the latter may be too expensive for some institutions. Even then, there are still some actions a sysadmin can take to reinforce their network security.

How to Prevent Attacks

The most common avenues bad actors access the network from are phishing attempts and unmanaged endpoints. The school’s security software could be a liability as well if it isn’t kept up to date. Admins can secure their network by running through the following checklist.

How to Prevent Ransomware Attacks in Schools

  • Require anti-virus/anti-malware on all endpoints.
  • Automatically update the security software (i.e. AV) installed on all owned devices.
  • Create separate admin/faculty and guest/student networks.
    • Separating networks lets admins completely lock down the former. That way, if the guest/student network becomes compromised, the admin/faculty one can be used for damage control.
  • Install browser extensions/applications on owned devices that block users from downloading unauthorized files.
  • Secure endpoints by:
    • Requiring multi-factor authentication (MFA).
    • Locking USBs.
    • Enforcing full disk encryption (FDE) on owned devices.
  • Monitor user logins, VPNs, and activity on lost or stolen devices.
  • Have an efficient system for onboarding and offboarding users.
    • Without one, malignant former users may still have access to the network. Shadow IT can create access to critical data and resources without IT’s knowledge. This can create identities that aren’t secured and prevents admins from having control over them.

Traditionally, these tasks can translate to many hours of manual work. However, leveraging a modern directory service can make the process more efficient.

Directory services enable complete control over users and machines bound to the institution’s network, including remote machines. A modern directory service is cloud-based with cross-platform system management to ensure that all endpoints are secure.

Reinforce Security with IT Resource Management

Sysadmins can only do so much to protect their network from threats. Ultimately, the best way to stay secure is by educating users on security best practices, making sure your protection software is up to date, and staying in the cybersecurity loop. Everything else can act as fallbacks in case the first line of security measures fail.

With that in mind, sysadmins still play a key role in keeping their network secure. A cloud-based directory service can help by letting them push system updates remotely. It also lets admins lock USB ports, automate FDE on owned Windows and macOS devices, and require MFA on systems and applications. These capabilities don’t guard against malware alone, but they compliment existing software to create a more tightly woven net.

Learn More

To learn more about how a modern directory service can help guard against ransomware in 2020, contact us or schedule a free demo. We offer a reduced rate for educational institutions, with the first 10 users being free for life.

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