The growing threat of ransomware today looms across a number of different industries – healthcare, retail, hospitality, finance and insurance, government, professional services, technology and manufacturing – and education is not immune. However, unlike some of the other aforementioned industries, educational institutions frequently need to solve their IT challenges on very limited budgets.
This is according to Anton Jacobsz, managing director at value-added reseller, Networks Unlimited, who says, “While educational institutions should, in an ideal world, have access to the latest security and networking technologies, these restrictions on funding can make it difficult to find the right solution to buy, let alone financing the ongoing resources to manage them. Recent reports from the United States showed that, across the industries outlined above, ransomware variants are the top five malware every week (source: FortiGuard Threat Intel Brief), infecting between 30,000 and 50,000 devices per month.
“From an educational perspective, sensitive information must be secured, and so hackers can find a potentially lucrative market in targeting the information in student records.”
With more and more data being moved to the public cloud, networks are becoming increasingly borderless, and security is having trouble keeping up. With many potential breach points, this brings a perfect opportunity for hackers. Jacobsz continues, “As we follow in the footsteps of more technologically advanced countries such as United States, the UK and Europe, we will see the increasing presence in South Africa of the digital classroom, when students also bring their own devices with them to the school or tertiary institution. As the students of today and increasingly tomorrow move seamlessly between their laptops, tablets, smart phones and e-readers, they become more dependent on Wi-Fi and the cloud. The days of working offline are being left behind us and with this, the opening of networks to accommodate the growing number of devices brings inevitable security risks.
“Learners and staff members alike need to be aware that this could lead to data breaches and data leaks of sensitive personal information. So we can see that educators face the dual challenge of using technology as part of the need to bring their students meaningful and up-to-date information, while still needing to maintain a high level of network security to protect data.”
To counteract this threat, Networks Unlimited provides access to solutions that include wireless access points, switches, web caching, application delivery controllers and firewalls. Jacobsz points out that in addition to the hardware and software requirements, education facilities must also factor in the time needed by the IT team to manage the network. “The solutions that we have at our disposal will allow those running an education network to effectively protect their data in a cost-effective manner. In this way, with the issues of security and costs taken care of, this will allow the educators in their own particular ecosystems to continue offering their students the technology that is so necessary today in the modern, digital age.”
Jacobsz says that the education systems they offer are able to reduce complexity, save IT resources and provide comprehensive security. He concludes, “At Networks Unlimited, we strongly endorse that idea that South African learners should have exposure to, and training in, ICT skills, from Grade R right throughout school. This means that access to online learning should be viewed as an ongoing socio-economic investment to help uplift our learners and prepare them for later life as independent adults.
“When we look back 25 years in the South African education space, access to digital learning in schools was then considered a luxury. Today, it is a necessity. Educational institutions at all levels should, therefore, be empowered to offer their students access to technology that is up-to-date, protected and cost-effective overall.”