Ransomware attacks continue to grow at a rapid pace, and they’re expected to double in 2018. They’ve even spread to school districts and are the reason why the PARC exams in the New Jersey district were delayed in 2015 (for random ransom demands upwards of $124,000). Moreover, K-12 schools are often targets and private PK-12 schools with small budgets or IT teams can be at risk. That’s why it’s important to understand the basics of ransomware, and how it spreads and infects. You can prevent ransomware from happening in the first place by implementing some best practices. Here’s what you need to know.
The Basics and How It’s Dispersed
Ransomware is malicious software that is often spread via pop-ups on mobile browsers and email. When individuals access this content, it leaves them vulnerable to an attack that can lock their data, deny access to it and even destroy the data. It can spread quickly by exploiting domain vulnerabilities, too. Cybercriminals that hack the system often follow up with a ransom demand in order to release this information, and academic institutions are often a target.
Ransomware Best Practices
While ransomware attacks are on the rise, it doesn’t mean that you’re left defenseless. You can take the necessary steps to ensure your school and staff are protected by using some key best practices:
Change passwords frequently. Keeping the same password will keep you and your staff susceptible to hacks. Avoid this by implementing a procedure that requires staff to change their passwords on a frequent basis, such as every 90 days. By doing this, you can reduce the potential of a ransomware attack.
Test your network. Keeping one step ahead (or more) of ransomware attackers is vital to reducing the incidence of an attack. You can accomplish this by consistently checking for vulnerabilities in your school’s network.
Examine incoming email. Links within emails are an easy way for hackers to access your information without your knowledge. All it takes is one click on the wrong link to fall prey to a potential hacker. That’s why it’s important to examine your incoming email for suspicious or unfamiliar requests from people you don’t know, or even from those you know that may request something off-hand. Rather than clicking on the link, you can open up emails at home or at work via school portals that are encrypted. Also, watch out for phishing schemes that ask for your information, such as your bank account number or your school ID number.
Keep a backup of all pertinent information. Often, hackers that demand ransom block access or even delete the vital content you need to get school work done. Backing up all vital content is an essential step to avoid the risk of losing access to the data you need to get school tasks completed or to prevent hackers from getting the upper-hand.
Use anti-virus software. Start off with the right tools from the first day of school operations. Ensure that all school computers and mobile devices that have access to your network are equipped with software that can easily spot viruses, malware and suspicious activity that attempt to exploit your system.
Have a plan. Even with taking the necessary precautions to prevent a ransomware attack, schools can fall prey to savvy hackers. In the event this happens, it’s key to have a plan in place so that your staff can be aware of the right actions to take should anything go wrong.
Ransomware is prevalent and is projected to continue to grow. However, by taking the essential steps to safeguard your data, you can get your work done for school and be confident your information is safe.