20% rise in cyber-attacks on global education sector in last eight weeks

Hackers are exploiting the virtual learning space implemented in response to COVID-19 as students head back-to-school

In the last two months, the global education sector has seen a 20% increase in cyber-attacks as criminals exploit newly-implemented virtual learning environments, researchers from Check Point have revealed.

The U.S. has experienced the biggest surge in education- and research-related attacks, with the average number of weekly breaches per institution increasing by 30% in July and August this year, rising from 468 attacks in the previous two months to 608; while cyber-attacks experienced across other U.S. industries increased by just 6.5%.

Denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks were most prevalent in the US, with a recent instance involving a teen hacker from Florida who took down the nation’s largest school districts for the first three days of remote classes this term.

According to Comparitech, cases of DDoS attacks – a malicious attempt to make a machine or network resource unavailable to its intended users by temporarily or indefinitely disrupting services of a host connected to the internet – have been rising in frequency for the past few years. Attacks seen in the summer of of 2018 were 16% higher than in 2017, for example. However, since the start of the pandemic, when the world moved online at rapid pace, cases have almost doubled when comparing figures from Q1 of 2019 and Q1 of 2020.

“As remote learning stays, hackers also tell” – Omer Dembinsky, Check Point

Europe also saw a considerable increase in cyber-attacks, most notably in the form of information disclosure attempts. The average number of weekly attacks per education provider across the region soared by 24% between July and August, rising from 638 in the previous two months to 793. European industries at large experienced a 9% rise in attacks, comparatively.

In Asia, multiple vulnerabilities were observed across the sector, including Denial of Service, Remote Code Execution and Information Disclosure. In July and August this year, the average weekly attacks experienced per education provider in Asia grew by 21%, soaring from 1,322 in the previous two months to 1,598. The overall increase across Asian sectors was 3.5% in comparison.

Omer Dembinsky, manager of data intelligence at Check Point, commented: “The coronavirus pandemic has forced the transition to remote work and remote learning. These attack numbers show an ominous trend: hackers are eyeing students returning to virtual classes as easy targets. These attacks can include malicious phishing emails, ‘Zoom bombs’ and even ransomware. The recent cyber-attack on the Miami-Dade public school system is just one example. Human beings are always the weakest links when it comes to cybersecurity. I strongly urge students, parents and institutions to be extra careful these next few months, as I believe the attack numbers and methods will only get worse. As remote learning stays, hackers also stay.”

In other news: BBC helps young pupils return to class


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