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7 Vital Steps to Protect Schools Against Ransomware Attacks

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By: andyalvin

September 11, 2019

Amidst increased awareness of protection against cybercrimes, hackers with malicious intent have found a new way to strike back. And that’s through ransomware.It is a type of malware that stops the users from accessing their system or personal files and demand ransom payment to regain access. In the past, this malpractice was seen in the corporate sector, but now it has reached various educational institutions."I have lost all of my assignments files including legal case analysis1 example sheet due to this Ransomware attack! How do I recover?”

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There have been several reports of ransomware attacks on different schools across the USA. According to a report published on the New York Times, “One attack forced the Houston County School District in Dothan, AL. to delay the first day of school for 6,400 students. Others crippled computer systems at the Syracuse City School District in upstate New York and at three school districts in Louisiana”.In light of these incidents, schools are advised to take measures to prevent such attempts in the future. So, here’s an elaborate guide on how to protect your school network from ransomware attacks.

1. Only use a supposed operating system that receives security updates

An “unsupported operating system” is one which doesn’t receive frequent security updates. Windows XP and Vista are two instances of operating systems that are no longer supported by Microsoft.It’s best not to use an unsupported operating system specifically if you are using a network of computers in school. Often these older systems can easily become infected by being connected to the Internet.Unsupported operating systems come with unpatched “security holes” (also called “security exploits”) in the operating system. These exploits allow hackers (and automated “bots”) direct access to the machine, which can easily bypass a firewall or antivirus protection. From there, the machine becomes infected, which then spreads across a network like wildfire – even on systems that receive security updates.

2. See that your windows update is functional

You may also be at risk of a ransomware attack if your Windows update breaks and security updates are not installing. Even if you have supported operating system (like Windows 7, 8 or 10), this can become a huge issue.Computers that already have Windows 7 or the newer versions see to it that the automatic updates are enabled. That way, new security patches can be installed as soon as they are available. These latest versions of Windows had already been patched by Microsoft to prevent these types of ransomware attacks particularly.A broken Windows Update is incredibly common, so you must check to ensure it’s working.

3. Initiate regular backups

Use a disk image backup program to backup your C drive. If you have an external hard drive for backups, it is essential not to keep it attached to the system. You must unplug the external drive when it’s not in use because ransomware can spread to the drive if it becomes infected. These tips will keep your backups safe.If you intend to run backups every day, creating a separate partition on the main drive would be a great idea. This way, your backups will be copied once a week or once a month to your external drive.If you’re not using an external hard drive, you can also use a cloud service. Cloud services offer automatic versioning so that if the recent versions are encrypted, you can still retrieve the earlier versions of the data.

4. Enforce access restrictions to prevent the infection from spreading

If you’re using a network of computers, you must check that Computer A doesn’t have access to Computer B, and vice versa. Ransomware is designed to spread like wildfire on a network.This is why it’s vital to have password-protected network shares according to username and password. It’s also crucial to restrict the amount of data that is being shared. So, it’s better that you only share parts of the drive instead of the entire C drive. You can also set limitations to folders so that they are read-only on the share. This is another great way to prevent ransomware from spreading across the network.

5. Implement proper password practices

Passwords tend to be a major vulnerability, and many users are using obvious, easy to hack passwords. All passwords must be at least eight characters and must have a mix of numbers, special characters, and upper and lower case letters. Also never use the same password all over again.And change them frequently. Predictable passwords are one of the biggest vulnerabilities in our systems. Similarly, having your systems lock the users out for a while if they try three incorrect passwords is ideal for preventing hackers from breaking into accounts.

6. Ensure your firewall and antivirus/antimalware is enabled & updated

Most antimalware/antivirus programs will upgrade on their own. You only have to access the main interface to check that their antivirus/antimalware definition files are updated or not. Also, initiate a full system scan once every month if required.You can consider installing a reliable antivirus/antimalware software like Bitdefender Total Security and Symantec Norton Security Premium.The Windows firewall also works fine, in this case. Just ensure it is enabled and configured appropriately. Make sure there aren’t any remote access programs enabled on Windows startup, as that can be a huge risk, especially for a ransomware attack.

7. Consult with an expert to prevent the spread

If ever your network of computers are infected with ransomware, it is imperative to stop the spread. You can shut the computers down as ransomware is designed to spread as swiftly as possible over a network.It’s always ideal to seek help from a professional who can help remove the ransomware from the machine and to stop it from reappearing. Ransomware can infect your network of computers again and again if you don’t find the source of the attack.

Summing it up

Ransomware can slide through any defense and go unrecognized if your operating system or network isn’t up to date. But following these steps mentioned above will help prevent this menace effectively.   Reference:1.
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