Lauren Seip, July 2023

A Lesson on Safeguarding Student Records from Ransomware Attacks       

Summer may be in full swing, but cybercriminals never take breaks from stealing and encrypting valuable data – like student records. In fact, attacks may be more frequent during the summer as attackers know staffing and network visibility will also be reduced. 

Last year, 1,981 K-12 schools in the U.S. were affected by ransomware attacks.

Protecting student records is not only a legal requirement but also an ethical responsibility. The school administration should ensure the privacy and confidentiality of sensitive information to uphold integrity and reputation. 

Ransomware attacks can also disrupt the learning environment for students and teachers. If school systems and resources are inaccessible, it can be challenging to conduct classes effectively and deliver educational materials. This disruption can lead to a loss of instructional time, affect student performance, and cause additional stress for both educators and students. 

As discussed in our June webinar, “What the Hack? Stop the Attack! A Lesson on Safeguarding Student Records,” a common way for cybercriminals to penetrate storage systems and steal data through exfiltration is with a Trojan Horse application that is voluntarily installed on the student’s computer. 

Ready to learn more about this subject? Let’s hit the books! 

What is a Trojan Horse? 

After a fruitless 10-year siege, the Greeks constructed a huge wooden horse at the behest of Odysseus, and hid a select force of men inside, including Odysseus himself. The Greeks pretended to sail away, and the Trojans pulled the horse into their city as a victory trophy. That night, the Greek force crept out of the horse and opened the gates for the rest of the Greek army, which had sailed back under the cover of darkness. The Greeks entered and destroyed the city. 

Similarly, in the cybersecurity world, a Trojan Horse application is a form of malware that disguises itself as a legitimate software “gift” with an unknown attack inside. Once installed, a Trojan application can perform various malicious activities without the user’s knowledge, such as stealing sensitive information, providing unauthorized access to the attacker, or opening a backdoor for further attacks. 

Trojans may be packaged in downloads for games, tools, and other apps promising a benefit to the user, and it’s common for students or faculty to unknowingly download malicious software onto their school-issued laptops and infect the school’s network. For example, a student downloads a fake test preparation app onto their computer at home and then takes their laptop into the school’s network. 

How can you avoid a ransomware attack?  

To mitigate the impact of ransomware attacks, schools need to prioritize cybersecurity measures. This includes regular backups and incident response plans that focus on multi-layered security measures for preventing, detecting, and responding to malicious activity. A bonus is to include an extra fourth layer of storage protection that goes beyond endpoint detection, network detection and response, and backups, which will be discussed at the end of this post.  

Prompt reporting and collaboration with law enforcement and cybersecurity experts can also aid in the recovery process. 

When considering cybersecurity best practices, it’s important to remember the following:  

  • Keep your operating system and software up to date with the latest security patches. 
  • Use reputable antivirus or anti-malware software and keep it updated. 
  • Be cautious when downloading or opening email attachments, especially from unknown sources. 
  • Regularly back up your important files to an offline or cloud storage solution. 
  • Enable a firewall and use strong, unique passwords for all your accounts. 
  • Empower storage and security teams with real time file access transparency for all users and domain service accounts accessing the storage infrastructure 

In addition, schools can also empower students with essential knowledge and skills to navigate the digital landscape safely by integrating cybersecurity education into the curriculum. Teaching students about online threats, responsible online behavior, and data privacy helps them protect themselves and others from cyber risks. 

An A+ Cybersecurity Plan  

Educational institutions need to take the time to establish an effective, in-depth cybersecurity plan to safeguard sensitive data that goes beyond endpoint and network detection, and a false sense of safety that can come from backup strategies. To learn more about developing an in-depth strategy that directly protects the storage without dependencies on vulnerable infrastructure like agents, Active Directory, domain service accounts, and user behavior learning periods that can be circumvented, check out this blog post on Defense in Depth.

As you’re creating your plan, we encourage you to also consider our powerful ransomware protection CryptoSpike. This easy-to-install software acts as a fourth layer of storage protection, and continuously monitors all file access transactions across your data center’s storage, using behavioral analysis to automatically block all types of ransomware attacks in real time. 

Curious to learn more about CryptoSpike? Email [email protected] or check out this webpage here: 

About ProLion

ProLion offers powerful data protection solutions that safeguard critical storage and backup data, on-premises or in the cloud. From ransomware protection that detects threats in real time to data transparency, our industry-leading solutions ensure your storage system remains secure, compliant, manageable, and accessible around the clock.