Data Security

Report: Education Now Most Targeted Sector for Ransomware

Education has surpassed healthcare as the sector most targeted by ransomware, a variety of malware that makes data inaccessible to users until a ransom is paid.

According to U.S. Department of Justice statistics, some 4,000 ransomware attacks occur every day in the United States this year alone. According to a new report from security analyst BitSight, the number of attacks against educational organizations now dwarfs attacks in all other sectors.

According to the BitSight Insights report ("The Rising Face of Cyber Crime: Ransomware"), a full 13 percent of education institutions examined by the company had experienced ransomware attacks on their networks in the last year. That compares with government at 5.9 percent and healthcare at 3.5 percent. Energy/utilities and retail rounded out the top 5 at 3.4 percent and 3.2 percent, respectively. The finance sector came in a distant sixth at 1.5 percent.

"While several ransomware attacks on healthcare companies have made headlines this year, the issue is more widespread. Our analysis shows that the Education sector is actually the most impacted group, followed by Government. Establishing email security protocols, monitoring key third-party vendors, tracking security ratings and avoiding file sharing are all ways to mitigate risks associated with ransomware," said Stephen Boyer, co-founder and CTO of BitSight, in a statement released to coincide with the report.

The report indicated that ransomware increased across all sectors in 2016.

A separate report released this month, "The 2016 Global Ransomware Report," security firm Datto surveyed 1,100 managed service providers to get their take on ransomware. MSPs placed education much lower on the threat scale (in ninth place, with 12 percent of MSPs seeing education institutions affected compared with No. 1 professional services at 44 percent and No. 2 healthcare at 38 percent).

Datto's report found that the most effective protection against ransomware is backup and disaster recovery, followed by employee training. Many ransomware attacks occur through e-mail phishing, the report noted, and keeping employees uninformed about phishing attacks is "a bad combo." The report indicated that 46 percent of MSPs saw e-mail phishing attacks as the leading cause of ransomware attacks; lack of employee training, at 36 percent, came in second. Malicious websites and Web-based ads were also cited by 12 percent of MSPs.

According tot he Datto report: "Malicious emails coupled with a general lack of employee cybersecurity training is the leading cause of a successful ransomware attack. Today's businesses must provide regular cybersecurity training to ensure all employees are able to spot and avoid a potential phishing scam in their inbox, a leading entrance point for the malware."

The least effective defenses against ransomware cited in the Datto report were virus/malware protection and e-mail spam filters.

It's also worth noting that cloud services are not immune from ransomware, according to Datto's report. Seventy percent of respondents said their clients have been infected via Dropbox, 29 percent via Office 365, 12 percent via Google Apps, 6 percent via box and 3 percent via Salesforce.

About the Author

David Nagel is editorial director, education for 1105 Media's Public Sector Media Group and editor-in-chief of THE Journal. A 22-year publishing veteran, Nagel has led or contributed to dozens of technology, art and business publications.

He can be reached at dnagel@1105media.com. You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at or follow him on Twitter at @THEJournalDave (K-12) or @CampusTechDave (higher education).


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