Device complexity leaving schools at heightened risk of ransomware attacks

Absolute Software announced a research revealing the significant management and security challenges faced by K-12 education IT teams with the rise in digital learning and widespread adoption of 1:1 device programs. The report underscores how increased device mobility and complexity are leaving schools increasingly vulnerable to security risks and potential attacks.

schools ransomware attacks

As devices quickly became the primary mode of learning and connection for students and staff, school districts raced to expand their fleets; data shows that the total number of devices deployed across K-12 environments increased 74 percent from 2019 to 2020. At the same time, the disruption caused by digital learning – and the flurry of new technologies needed to support it – opened up new potential attack vectors for cybercriminals.

Most schools reporting ransomware attacks

Schools are now the top target for ransomware attackers, according to the FBI, with 57 percent of all reported ransomware attacks in August and September 2020 targeting K-12 institutions.

The new ‘learn-from-anywhere’ dynamic underscores the critical need for complete visibility and control over all student and staff devices, especially when off the school network.

“As devices quickly became the classroom over the past year and a half, education IT teams were tasked with redefining learning for the modern era – in addition to successfully navigating the device management and security challenges they were already facing,” said Christy Wyatt, President and CEO of Absolute Software.

“In this new digital reality, the endpoint is now the edge and the primary attack surface for cybercriminals is actually in the hands of students and staff. The ability to see, manage, and protect every endpoint device – as well as the data and applications on those devices – is absolutely critical in ensuring students and staff remain safe, connected, and productive no matter where physical learning is actually taking place.”

Other key findings

  • Distance learning truly goes the distance: Data shows that 47% of K-12 devices in spring 2021 were located more than 25 miles from their school or district, compared to 27 percent in spring 2020, with 21 percent of devices registering more than 500 miles away.
  • Increased engagement comes with rise in “shadow education”: Students and faculty spent 60 percent of their time online actively utilizing educational resources in 2021. But, it also shows a rise in “shadow education,” with 21 percent of online activity in 2021 taking place outside established and approved education sites.
  • More complexity means heightened vulnerability: Schools have deployed an average of 6.7 applications to facilitate online learning, which includes 5.4 security controls – such as VPN, anti-virus, or anti-malware – per device. Every new app deployed on an endpoint device increases the likelihood of collision or decay; only 53 percent of anti-virus applications analyzed by Absolute were found to be working effectively.

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