All cyberattacks have the potential to damage your school district, but there’s perhaps no threat more devastating than a ransomware attack.
Why? Because there’s no telling where or how a ransomware infection will spread. And, the cost of a ransomware attack, even if you don’t pay the ransom, can be astronomical. Now that over 90% of schools are using cloud services like Google Workspace, there’s an exponentially greater number of opportunities for a ransomware threat to infiltrate your district.
The good news is that there are six simple steps you can take to help protect your student data, especially when it comes to Google Workspace. To help you get started, we’ve put them all into this comprehensive ransomware prevention checklist.
Why ransomware is a major threat to your data security
It’s important to understand the ransomware threat before you start ticking off boxes. After all, the best way to defeat thy enemy is to know thy enemy.
Ransomware is a type of malware, and like any malware it seeks to infiltrate your system and take advantage of your sensitive data. But as the name suggests, a ransomware attack works by literally blocking access to your information and holding it ransom in exchange for payment. In other words, a ransomware threat is the cybersecurity equivalent of a hostage situation.
This type of attack is becoming an increasingly prevalent problem, especially in K-12 education. In fact, according to the K-12 Cybersecurity Resource Center, 2021 was the first year on record that ransomware has been the most frequently reported attack on K-12 school districts.
Why school systems? Because they’re an easy target. The vast majority of schools operate in the cloud — most of them through Google Workspace. But very few — less than 20% — allocate their budgets to cloud security. With cloud services rising in popularity, schools represent a great opportunity for criminals to exploit these avenues and make a quick buck off ransomware victims.
And a lot of the time, they do. Student data is extremely valuable, meaning ransomware is very costly. For instance, one Texas school district paid over $540,000 in June 2021 to protect sensitive data from being published in response to a ransomware infection. In another incident in New York, the Buffalo School Board spent nearly $10 million on external IT consultants in response to an attack.
But there are also consequences you can’t put a price on. When student data is exposed to the public, there’s no telling who or how someone might access and take advantage of their information.
Ransomware Checklist: 6 easy ways to increase security in your district
Any organization big or small knows the value of proper information security. For K-12 education, that value is all the more important. That’s why we put together the following ransomware prevention checklist:
1. Delete phishing emails
A phishing email is one of many tactics that a threat actor might use to infiltrate your district’s Google Workspace. Cybercriminals fool their victims into clicking on a link or downloading an attachment in a phishing email. Once that happens, they can inject malware into your system and access data as they please.
Nowadays, a phishing email can be difficult to spot without an email security tool. Google offers its own Investigation Tool to help you identify any user who’s received a malicious email. ManagedMethods, on the other hand, can detect phishing 24/7 on its own, even when your security team is off the clock. By finding and deleting or quarantining suspicious emails, you can save yourself the trouble of a ransomware infection in its early stages.
2. Remove active malware
Malware is any code or software that a threat actor uses to hack into your school district, such as a virus. As previously mentioned, ransomware is itself a type of malware and works by encrypting your sensitive data so that users cannot access it until a ransom is paid.
Google provides tools for detecting malware in attachments, links, and external images. ManagedMethods takes malware detection several steps further by automatically monitoring your Google Workspace, immediately alerting you to threats, and automatically deleting or quarantining the source — making malware deletion fast and simple.
3. Detect account takeovers
Suspicious login activity is a telltale sign that one of your accounts has been compromised. It’s also an indicator that a hacker is testing out their ransomware attack plan, as they often do several days before a strike.
With the aid of a cloud security platform like ManagedMethods, you can easily investigate suspicious login activity. The system provides you a complete log of behavior that can be filtered to identify issues before they spiral out of control. Suspicious login activity might include logins from other countries or impossible login timing, as in someone logs into the account from the U.S. and then there’s another login from China within a couple of hours. ManagedMethods will revoke access to infected users to give your team time to evaluate the situation.
4. Prevent lateral phishing
Lateral phishing is a close cousin to traditional social engineering scams, but are usually even more tricky to handle. A lateral phishing scam is one that comes from a trusted source, such as a fellow student or teacher’s account. Under the veil of authenticity, scammers use compromised accounts to send more phishing emails and entice users into providing personal information.
Even worse, lateral phishing can’t be detected by traditional, gateway-based security systems. ManagedMethods, however, uses content and keyword scanning tools to identify risky communications, thus helping you identify and delete lateral phishing emails.
5. Assess third-party apps
Third-party apps are the building blocks of your cloud environment. Most are helpful, but some can be malicious. In fact, per reporting from Security Intelligence, over two-thirds of malware downloads originate from cloud apps.
Cybercriminals exploit third-party apps using OAuth credentials. If they can infiltrate approved third-party apps, such as those provided by Google Workspace, they can slip undetected into your district’s domain. Google allows you to control which apps have access to sensitive data, but ManagedMethods give you enhanced visibility into exactly which apps are risky and what permissions they receive, who is using them, what permissions have been granted, and more. Plus, you can easily sanction and unsanction individual apps and remove them from your domain.
6. Automate remediation
Ransomware attacks can happen any number of ways, and mitigating the threat vectors listed above is no easy task. If your security team is small, you might feel like your back is up against the wall.
That’s where automation comes into play. Automated tools can multiply the force of your existing defenses and take information security to another level. The ManagedMethods platform provides tools to manage turnkey and customizable policies, empowering you to streamline incident investigation and remediation efforts.
Ransomware security best practices
You can never have too many helpful tips when it comes to ransomware. To ensure we leave you with as much tangible information as possible, let’s highlight a few best practices.
- Perform regular backups: Backup your files in a secure storage space where a threat actor can’t access them in the event of a ransomware infection.
- Don’t fall for a scammer’s bluff: Scammers are liars. They may release your data even if you make a payment. Save your money and call their bluff.
- Develop a response plan: A standardized response plan is key for handling incidents in real time.
- Leverage an automated solution: Cloud security platforms are critical assets that amplify your security capabilities regardless of your resources.
With a cloud security solution like ManagedMethods on your side, you can easily protect your Google Workspace from a ransomware threat. Through automated detection and remediation, you’ll be able to get ahead of the curve and put a stop to ransomware before it’s too late.