Ransomware Attacks are a Chilling Reality for K-12 Organizations

Tom Badders
March 2, 2022 • 3 min read
Ransomware Attacks are a Chilling Reality for K-12 Organizations

News of ransomware attacks against K-12 organizations are plentiful. School districts from New York to Georgia to Nevada have felt the impact of ransomware attacks causing cancellations to classes as schools scramble to recover data and avoid disruptions to learning. The FBI recently reported that 57 percent of reported ransomware attacks involved K-12 organizations. No matter how you look at it, ransomware attacks are prevalent and unfortunately a chilling reality that K-12 schools must face.

Wealth of information and understaffed IT teams

The cyber landscape for K-12 organizations is more threatening than ever. The pandemic along with the rapid shift to remote learning have exposed security weaknesses that are inherent within the K-12 organizations. These organizations are the gatekeepers of a wealth of information of tens of millions of young students along with teachers and administrators. Stolen identities of students under the age of 13 are highly valued on the dark web because they do not have extensive credit histories.  In addition, every time a student is browsing on the internet on a school issued device, a digital footprint is left behind that can inadvertently expose the school to a cybersecurity breach. 

Couple those challenges with an understaffed, underbudgeted and often an ill-prepared IT team, and K-12 organizations are attractive targets for ransomware attacks.  The ever-changing tactics of the sophisticated cybercriminal syndicates present a constant and dangerous challenge for IT teams. In a ransomware attack, hackers are often in your organization’s network for months gathering information on critical assets, financials, and sensitive data.

Ransom payment is smallest portion of total costs

By the time the ransom is demanded, the bad actors have not only frozen your systems, but also exfiltrated the personal data back to their criminal servers to be held hostage or often sold on the dark web.  Yet, paying off the ransom rarely stems the bleeding. Of the thirty-five percent of schools that have paid the ransom, only 11 percent have had all of their data restored. Until ransomware attacks become unprofitable, they will continue to proliferate.

The ransom payment is not the only cost for organizations. The total average bill for a ransomware attack on education organizations is $2.73 million dollars. Ironically, the ransom is the smallest portion of the total cost. The majority of the costs is attributed to downtime, security updates, device and network repairs, and other expenses to get the systems back up and running.

Facing the looming costs from an inevitable ransomware attack, K-12 organizations need to prioritize cybersecurity and allocate budget and resources to defend against the onslaught of cyberattacks. Schools are under immense pressure and in some instances are required to have in-person learning while keeping students safe.

Eliminate attack surfaces with network obfuscation

The number of attack surfaces has increased exponentially with the number of student devices on the school’s network. One of the most effective solutions to protect students, their data and the organization is network obfuscation. With network obfuscation, student identities and the location they are coming from can be anonymized and their digital footprint removed. Students’ online activities remain anonymous and private and are protected from bad actors. The same solution can be leveraged to prevent cyberbullying.

In addition, most network obfuscation solutions will remove the IP addresses of the online traffic, eliminating the attack surfaces back to the school’s network, thus reducing the risks of cyberattacks.

To learn more about how network obfuscation can fit into your organization’s cybersecurity strategy, visit https://www.telos.com/offerings/telos-ghost-for-education-k-12/.

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Tom Badders
Senior Product Manager
Tom Badders is a Senior Product Manager at Telos Corporation.
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