New channel opportunities could flow as UK education institutions reopen, learning to tackle cybersecurity issues once more as pupils return for the first time in months.

Justine Kurtz, content editor for Webroot (part of OpenText), says the back-to-school period typically comes with a spike in cyber attacks, with this year looking no different.

“In fact, the attacks on the education sector are already up,” she says. Data from Microsoft shows more encounters with malware associated with the pandemic, in addition.

Schools and the businesses that serve them need to watch out for a range of threats, proactively implementing new solutions where appropriate, from phishing to malware such as ransomware, Zoom-bombing and spoofed websites. And the more time students spend online, the more threats they face.

Tyler Moffitt, security analyst at Webroot, says phishing for instance often spikes at the times people typically do more shopping.

“We always see a spike in phishing during those times. And with more people shopping and streaming online during COVID-19, I’m betting we’ll see even more activity this year than we would normally expect,” Moffitt says.

Intelligence from the Webroot BrightCloud Real-Time Anti-Phishing service suggests a rise in phishing URLs targeting global streaming services. In March alone, attacks on YouTube soared 3,064% and Netflix 525%.

IT departments at education institutions need therefore to watch out for scams, which can happen through a variety of channels. Additionally, pupils, teachers and other staff that interact with the ICT systems should be kept aware of the risks, how to prevent attack and what to do if a breach occurs.

“Because many students will end up communicating mostly via online chat, text message/SMS or social media, it’s important for us all to be extra vigilant about what we click, what we download, and what information we transmit,” explains Kurtz.

Webroot threat researchers have also seen videoconference executable files faked or manipulated, with unwitting users at risk of downloading malware, as well as large numbers of fake websites — for example with “COVID” or related terms in their domain names.

Webroot’s Moffitt provides some simple cybersecurity tips for teachers and families here.

All schools and education institutions should have comprehensive information security and IT security solutions in place, as well as backup services that can help protect them in the case of cyberattack or data breach.

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