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Students Miss Up To Three Weeks Of Learning Time After A Cyberattack: Expert Shares How Schools Can Avoid ‘Cyber Snow Days’

April 2024 by Oliver, the CEO of CyberNut

As our world becomes increasingly digitized, the education sector finds itself grappling with a new and insidious threat: cyberattacks. These attacks have not only disrupted the traditional educational landscape but have also coined a new term: the "cyber snow day." But what is a cyber snow day, and what can individuals and schools do to protect themselves?
Oliver, the CEO of CyberNut, explores the urgent need to prioritize cybersecurity in education and ensure uninterrupted learning for everyone.

What Is A “Cyber Snow Day”?
Cyberattacks targeting educational institutions have become increasingly prevalent, leading to significant disruptions in learning for students. These attacks, ranging from ransomware to data breaches, have coined a new term: the “cyber snow day.”
Much like a traditional snow day, when inclement weather forces schools to close, a cyber snow day occurs when a cyberattack renders school systems inoperable, halting the educational process.
Oliver says, ‘According to a 2022 U.S. Government Accountability Office report, the impact of such attacks can be staggering. Students could miss up to three weeks of instructional time due to system outages caused by cyberattacks. Recovery from these attacks can be equally daunting, with downtime ranging from two to nine months.’
Oliver’s Tips To Boost Schools’ Cybersecurity Defenses
To mitigate the risks posed by cyber threats, schools must prioritize robust cybersecurity measures.

Implement Multi-Factor Authentication
Multi-factor authentication (MFA) stands as a critical barrier against unauthorized access to school systems.
Oliver says, ‘MFA significantly reduces the risk of unauthorized entry by requiring several forms of verification, such as a password and a unique code sent to a registered device. This is helpful in situations when passwords are compromised.’

Ensure Regular Software Updates
Regular software updates are essential in patching vulnerabilities that cyber attackers often exploit. Outdated software presents low-hanging fruit for hackers seeking to breach school systems. Educational institutions must establish a system for monitoring and installing updates across all devices and applications.

Provide Comprehensive Employee Training
All employees, from teachers to administrative staff, serve as the first line of defense against cyber threats. Oliver explains, ‘There should be comprehensive training programs to train the staff about common cybersecurity risks, such as phishing scams and social engineering tactics. Training sessions should also cover best practices for password management, data handling, and recognizing suspicious activities.’

Develop Incident Response Plans
Despite preventive measures, cyber incidents may still occur. Therefore, it is imperative for schools to have well-defined incident response plans in place.
These plans should outline procedures for detecting, containing, and mitigating cyber threats swiftly and effectively. Key components should include designated response teams, communication protocols, backup and recovery strategies, and steps for reporting incidents to relevant authorities.
Regular drills and simulations can ensure that the staff are familiar with their roles and procedures during a cyber crisis.

Maintain A Culture Of Vigilance
Oliver explains, ‘Cybersecurity is not a one-time effort but an ongoing commitment that requires constant vigilance. Schools must foster a culture of cybersecurity awareness among students, staff, and stakeholders. Encouraging a proactive approach to reporting suspicious activities, promoting open communication channels, and emphasizing the shared responsibility for cybersecurity are integral aspects of maintaining this culture of vigilance.’

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