The pandemic has affected nearly all sectors of the society and education is no exception. In a bid to restore educational activities, higher education in particular, universities resorted to remote or distant learning.

Unlike corporate entities that allocate resources, both human and financial, in order to protect their data, universities are simply struggling to keep online learning on track. This has opened up new “avenues” for cyber criminals.

Further, universities are considered a relatively softer target by cyber miscreants, as the effort to “reward” ratio is mind boggling. According to tech research firm BlueVoyant, ransomware has now become the biggest threat for universities.

When compared to the year 2019, there has been a 100% spike in ransomware attacks on educational institutions during 2020. The other equally worrying statistic is that the average ransom demand for such attacks now stands at a whopping US $447,000 per incident.

Both the number of ransomware attacks and the average ransom demand are mind boggling stats. After such an attack has been executed, universities find themselves with no other viable option but to pay the exorbitantly high ransom and move on.

Analysis of the current online learning mechanisms used by universities also reveals a worrisome picture. It was found that over 75% of universities were using open remote desktop ports. 60% of the analyzed entities had even open database ports.

Lastly, one more contributing factor behind ransomware attacks was lack of multi factor authentication (MFA) on the part of both faculty and students. Stolen credentials are making it much easier for attackers to make their way into the network.

Cybersecurity experts have highlighted the rising threat of ransomware for universities. At the very least, they suggest immediate implementation of MFA across the board and constant network monitoring to identify abnormal behavior or anomalies.