Cyber attacks are one of the biggest threats that schools face, experts have warned, as new figures show that a fifth of education establishments have been hit.

Hackers see teachers and parents as a “soft target”, since they are often ill-equipped to deal with cyber thefts, while sensitive data held by schools – such as children’s medical records – are lucrative on the dark web.

Malware and phishing are the most popular types of attacks, according to research commissioned by Ecclesiastical, a specialist insurer for educational establishments.

They found that 20 per cent of educational institutions have been targeted and that universities are generally better prepared for such attacks than schools.

Schools hold sensitive information

Faith Parish, the education director at Ecclesiastical, said: “Schools hold interesting information and often quite sensitive information. That means they are a target.

“There has been certainly an increase in ransomware and malware attacks. Hackers are looking for any opportunity they can exploit, they are looking for soft targets.

“There is general phishing, where people are tricking others into providing information. What we are seeing now is what we would term whaling, where a finance director or bursar is targeted and asked to transfer thousands of pounds.”

Ms Parish said that cyber attacks are one of the biggest threats facing schools, especially as it have implications for safeguarding children.

Last month, footage from CCTV cameras at three Blackpool schools was live streamed on a US-based website.

The schools quickly moved to reassure parents that the live stream was taken offline within an hour of the security blunder coming to light.

Schools an “easy target”

In 2017, personal details belonging to millions of teachers, pupils and parents who use Edmodo, the ‘Facebook for schools’ application, were reportedly on sale on the dark web.

A hacker reportedly stole millions of account details from the education platform, which has over two million British users.

Stephen Burke, the founder and CEO of the organisation Cyber Risk Aware, said that schools are an “extremely easy target” for hackers. “You are seeing a lot of identity fraud now where children’s name and details are used to make official documents,” he said.

“Schools have often never been targeted before, they haven’t been trained, they are unsuspecting. If you are a private school the reputational damage will be quite severe.”

Source: The Telegraph