Education sector third worst-hit by data breaches in 2020

The education sector was responsible for 884 million leaked records across the globe in 2020, making it the third most affected by data breaches.

Only the technology (3.3 billion) and healthcare sectors (1.2 billion) were more vulnerable to security incidents, according to data from our sister company IT Governance, which reviewed more than 1,000 security incidents across the year.

This should cause huge concern for schools and other educational institutes, because those records mostly related to children. Raising safeguarding issues and whose data is subject to specific protections under the UK GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation).

As such, any educational institution that fails to adequately protect personal data not only risks harm to the individuals but also strict penalties, including a substantial fine.

You can find information and guidance about data breaches in the education sector in our free green paper Cyber Security 101 – A guide for schools.

It also contains essential guidance on what your school must do to protect its systems, and debunks six common cyber security myths.

How are data breaches occurring?

When a data breach is publicly disclosed, organisations don’t always know, or report on, its cause.

But where this information was known, ransomware was the most common cause of breaches among schools, accounting for 25% of all incidents.

This is consistent with trends across all sectors. Ransomware has fast become criminals’ favourite method of attack, in part because they generally don’t require sophisticated hacking skills, with criminals most commonly planting the malware in phishing emails.

The next most common cause of data breaches at schools was internal error (8.2%). This is any incident in which an employee exposes sensitive information by mistake, such as emailing records to the wrong person or misconfiguring a database online.

In more positive news, there was only one reported case of a data breach in the education sector resulting from a malicious insider. These breaches occur when a pupil or employee sabotages the organisation by misappropriating or leaking sensitive data.

Across all sectors, malicious insiders accounted for 4% of security incidents. This suggests that malicious insiders pose a comparatively low risk for schools, but that doesn’t mean you can ignore defences that will tackle the threat.

These defences – such as access controls and staff and student monitoring – not only catch individuals in the act but also are effective deterrents. Both current and former staff and students will know you can detect attempts to misappropriate sensitive records, and are therefore less likely to try.

How else can you protect your school?

You can find more tips on how to prevent data breaches by reading Cyber Security 101 – A guide for schools.

This free green paper gives an overview of the threat landscape and explains how schools can secure their systems.

You’ll learn why things such as risk assessments, staff training and access controls are essential, and discover the first steps toward bolstering your security defences.