Brian Evans is the Education Business Manager for Redstor.
There has been a tidal wave of headlines about malware computer viruses in recent months, most recently the WannaCry attacks which had a major impact on organisations across the globe. The malware strain infected over 40 NHS organisations, causing them to shut down machines affected within the health service. The knock-on effect to patients had the potential to be deadly with ambulance and A+E services unable to resume normal service and operations having to be delayed.
It is reported that up to 150,000 other organisations and individuals were infected too, in just 3 days. Many losing complete access to their computers and becoming subject to demands for payment in bitcoin – a form of digital currency – to have their data unencrypted.
Many of the organisations caught up in the cyber-attack, like the NHS, were targeted because of a lack of technical knowledge and the fact that they ran large networks comprised of multiple machines and many users. Due to the way networks were set up, the infection was able to spread quickly causing more damage in a short amount of time.
Many schools have similar profiles and like the NHS, a school also holds sensitive data. As far as the perpetrators of attacks like WannaCry are concerned, this increases the likelihood that a ransom payment will be paid for the return of data. As a result, schools need to be aware that they are at risk of an attack.
The good news is, there are some basic things you can do to limit the risk of being infected and also to reduce the effect of an attack should a network become infected. Here are four top tips to prevent your school from falling victim to a ransomware attack.
1. Protect your school’s computer system
Computer viruses evolve quickly and regular updates from software providers often include markers designed to prevent the latest incarnations of malware from getting into your system. It is important to keep your school’s PCs and mobile devices up to date with the latest versions of software so that they can benefit from the added protection. It is also prudent to invest in reputable anti-virus and firewall protection too.
2. Provide quality training
Provide both staff and students with regular training to help ensure they consider the risks associated with browsing the internet and reduce the likelihood of removable and hard drives becoming infected.
You could also produce a set of guidelines to help your staff to recognise suspicious-looking emails and avoid clicking on links or opening attachments in emails they are not familiar with. Known as phishing, this technique is often used by cyber-criminals as an effective way to spread malware. If users suspect anything unusual is happening on their computer, they should be encouraged to contact a network administrator who can disconnect it from the internet immediately to help prevent the unwanted transmission of a malicious virus.
3. Back up your school’s data
One of the most effective ways you can protect your school from the effects of a ransomware attack is to ensure your system is backed up regularly. Storing the backed-up data off-site is a must, so if the worst happens, backup data is not infected and you have the ability to roll your system back.
Without an isolated, up-to-date backup of data, your IT systems will have no previous working state to revert to and your data could be lost forever. By having up-to-date data backups your recovery will be swift and all traces of the ransomware infection can be erased. It is important to note that if your school uses Hosted SIMS, your data will automatically be securely backed-up, managed and maintained as part of your service plan by the Hosted SIMS team.
It is worth mentioning that paying a ransomware perpetrator is no guarantee that you will get your school’s data back. Viruses are often only designed to take payment, and may not necessarily even be capable of transmitting data back to the systems they lock users out of.
4. Report it
If a data breach occurs that is likely to leave individuals open to risk to their rights and freedoms, it must be reported to the relevant supervisory authority. Contact the Information Commissioner’s Office for further guidance on this.
It is almost impossible for any organisation to assure 100% protection from viruses such as Wannacry, but there is a lot you can do to limit the chances of falling victim to ransomware.
A comprehensive backup solution is your best chance of surviving a ransomware attack and ensure the swift recovery of your school systems. Find out more about Redstor Backup Pro and Hosted SIMS by calling our knowledgeable team on: 0844 893 600*.
*Calls to 0845 and 0870 numbers cost 3p per minute, plus your phone company's access charge.