NCSC Alert: Ransomware Still An Increasing Risk

The National Cyber Security Centre (“NCSC”) recently released a formal alert informing schools on yet another increase in ransomware attacks within the education sector in May/June 2021. They have emphasised once more that schools must continue to protect their networks and do everything they can to prevent this specific type of malware attack. Ransomware is one of the most common types of cyber attack and is increasingly trending within the education sector. Cyber criminals are becoming more tactical and discrete as time goes on, protecting your school from these attacks is more important than ever. You can view the alert here.

How has Ransomware developed in 2021?

Ransomware is a type of malicious software that usually infiltrates an organisation’s network when a user downloads an infected file or clicks on an infected link. This can happen through a phishing email/text/call, where the attacker will pose as a believable client, parent or business to trick the user into downloading the malicious file. Social engineering has been increasingly used to gain higher success rates within their scams. The attacker will research the person they are trying to scam and create a targeted phishing attempt. Having an idea of who someone is and their role in a company can make for an easily believable targeted phishing attack.  

The malware within the corrupted file or link contains specific scripts which locate files so that it can encrypt them and lock a user out. From here, the cyber criminal would ask for a ransom to unlock all of the users files. However, recently cyber criminals have been giving users a time limit, and if they do not pay the ransom in time, the cyber criminal will release all of the personal and special category data that is kept on the system. This inflicts more danger on your organisation as there is no way to find out where the user data has been shared and stored. 


How this could impact your organisation

Ransomware attacks can have multiple devastating impacts on your organisation if you aren’t prepared or haven’t mitigated your cybersecurity risks well enough. Many would assume that paying the ransom would be the biggest impact on a company. However, the time that it takes to regain access to every file that was compromised and record every potential risk tied to losing that data can also be a significant burden to the company and negatively impact performance.  

It isn’t just the organisation that suffers from ransomware attacks, the students are directly affected too. The recent ransomware attacks have led to the loss of student coursework, school financial records, as well as data relating to COVID-19 testing. The loss of this special category data puts the child’s safety and education at risk. It’s this special category data that entices cyber criminals and gangs to breach a school’s systems. Another motive is to gain parent financial information, putting the parents of students at risk of financial loss. This is why it is imperative that your organisation has the correct mitigation procedures in place to prevent something like a ransomware attack from happening. The NCSC alert states that it is vital for your school to ensure that you have tested and up-to-date offline backups for your network. System backups will allow you to easily recover and regain access to compromised data when cybercriminals have locked you out of your system.  


Mitigating these vulnerabilities

Mitigating cybersecurity risks within your organisation is imperative to the safety of your students and staff, and to your school’s reputation. Reputational damage can harm the parental trust within your school and deter prospective parents  from enrolling their child in your school. 9ine’s cyber vulnerability assessments (CVAs) and penetration testing will help your organisation to understand where the vulnerabilities in your systems are. 

The NCSC speaks of the vulnerabilities that cyber criminals look for when trying to compromise your system. Some of the most prevalent vulnerabilities lie with weak passwords, lack of multi factor authentication, and unpatched vulnerabilities within software. These vulnerabilities can be easily mitigated through ensuring there is a password policy in your school and all systems are allowed to update when they need to. These are low cost, high value precautions to take which could save hours of work and keep your school’s community safe. 

9ine’s CVAs identify the vulnerabilities and weaknesses in your organisation’s software and systems, and help you mitigate the risk of a data security incident occurring as a result of these vulnerabilities. The 9ine app can be used to manage cyber incidents and your data protection obligations, helping you keep on top of the tasks and activities needed to protect your organisation. After a CVA has been completed, one of 9ine’s complimentary cybersecurity workshops will give you the support and confidence that you need in order to implement adequate cybersecurity measures, allowing you to discuss any challenges that you are facing whilst mitigating your cybersecurity risks. Lastly, the 9ine app will allow you to document and record all of your processing so that you can locate the source of an issue efficiently should a data security incident occur. These services will enable you to have confidence in your organisation’s cybersecurity protection and keep your staff and students safe. 

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