Why Hackers Target Universities and How to Stay Protected

With students all across the country returning to university, there’s no better time than now to ramp up online security. Colleges and universities tend to be huge targets for hackers; without the right cyber security in place, many universities are putting their students at risk.

Every day, email phishing and forgery schemes are on the rise and it’s the responsibility of the university and IT leaders to protect students. Institutes of higher education are a popular target for cyber attackers as university databases are a goldmine of information and personal data – and the easiest way to access this data is through spam email.

Hackers and attackers try to attract email users to open spam and click on embedded links that direct them to malicious web pages. It’s through these web pages that important data is accessed.

In this article, we take a look at why hackers target universities and how to stay protected.

Why do hackers target universities?

Access to personal data

Universities are full of students and each student comes with Personally Identifiable Information (PII) – information used to identify them. This includes their names, addresses, phone numbers, date of birth, driver’s license numbers, financial information and even medical records. This personal information is exactly what hackers are after, making universities a particularly attractive target.

Valuable research and information

Each year, universities spend millions of pounds on subscriptions to various journals and services and have access to the most cutting-edge, valuable research. If cyber criminals are able to hack into a student account, they can access this research and sell it on.

In addition, research universities have research data; if stolen, the university could suffer a huge financial loss. As the researchers own this data and it’s not often held on central systems, protecting it can be difficult.

Lack of security

Unfortunately, many universities are known for their lack of security. Lots of colleges and universities all across the country do not have decent online security measures in place.  As this is well-known by many cyber criminals, hackers see universities as easy targets. Many students bring their own laptops and devices with them to campus which can make it even more difficult to track down and contain the source of malicious software.

Valid email addresses

Today, almost every email system out there has some form of built-in anti-spam filter (however, many of them aren’t that good at filtering out spam). The system works by inspecting the characteristics of an incoming email and uses a formula to decide if the email should be delivered or sent to the spam folder.

There are lots of different factors that make an email less likely to be filtered, with one of them being the actual email address and where it comes from. Hackers are keen to get their hands on a student email address simply because it’s legitimate and spam sent out on this address is far more likely to land in people’s inboxes.

How Universities Can Protect Themselves From Cyber Crime?

Despite the efforts made by IT leaders, phishing remains the leading cause of data breaches, and this means universities must take extra steps to protect their students from cyber crime. Phishing is more than just an annoyance; it can lead to significant financial loss and dangerous privacy violations.

As students have just returned to university, now is the perfect time to refresh IT department strategies and increase your campus defense. Here are a few ways you can reduce the risk of a successful phishing exploit:

Use Two Factor Authentication (2FA)

In many cases, one password and one layer of security is simply not enough. Many universities targeted by hackers only employ a one-factor authentication to access student portals, which is usually just a password the student has created themselves. Two factor authentication (2FA) offers another layer of security and means a student has to enter a unique number which identifies them to the service as well as their password.

Educate staff and students

One of the most powerful ways to protect staff and students from spam and phishing scandals is to educate them on the dangers of cyber crime and what they can do to prevent it. Even though many students use laptops and log into their emails every single day, many of them aren’t familiar with the sophistication of phishing emails and the various types to look out for. This makes them vulnerable. Some hackers will even go as far as to send highly-convincing emails that look like they’re from the university and create spoof websites asking for details.

The top scams targeted at students include:

  • Student loans company and tax refund phishing emails
  • Accommodation and rental emails
  • Online tickets for gigs
  • Money mule scams
  • Social media scams

Taking the time to educate staff and students on phishing emails and providing them with up to date information will ensure they know what to do should they come across one. When educating, you should always stress the following:

  • Do not click or open any suspicious emails, links or attachments.
  • Keep an eye out for emails containing errors and spelling mistakes; grammar isn’t always a scammer’s strong point.
  • Be wary of emails with a strong sense of urgency; scammers often urge recipients to act fast without thinking, ensuring they click on a link that leads to malicious web pages. Emails that state an account has experienced suspicious activity should be approached with extreme caution.

Use a reliable anti-spam software

You can’t rely on students to completely avoid phishing emails. Instead, it’s crucial to invest in a reliable anti-spam software for institutes of higher education. While email is necessary in universities and allows lecturers and students to communicate, it can also expose students to a myriad of risks and puts them in a vulnerable position.

A high-quality anti-spam software will help stop malware before it even reaches the inboxes of your students by analysing each message and only allowing legitimate emails through. This makes it far less likely that a dangerous email will reach a student, which can put both them and the system at risk.

Say goodbye to spams and viruses with MailCleaner

If you’re looking for a reliable anti-spam software, you needn’t look further than MailCleaner. MailCleaner is an anti-spam gateway installed between your mail infrastructure and the internet, offering professional protection against viruses and eliminating up to 99% of spam.

The best choice for schools and universities, MailCleaner is reliable and quality proven. The performances of our system allow filtering of very large networks such as those typically run by universities, which contain a lot of email addresses. If MailCleaner detects a harmful file, it will automatically send it to a quarantined zone where it cannot cause any more damage in the future.

Numerous highly reputed universities around the world are using MailCleaner and it’s not hard to see why. From spam to viruses, our software is guaranteed to be the blocker for any unwanted files or messages, helping to keep your students safe. MailCleaner is user-friendly and can be installed easily.

To learn more about us and how we can help protect your university from cyber crime today, visit our website.