Phishing and Higher Education: What You Need to Know

August 2023

Across the field of higher education, security threats run rampant. This is especially true as more schools than ever are relying on virtual/online platforms. Within the last couple of years especially, attacks on schools and other educational institutions have significantly increased. This is especially true regarding phishing attacks carried out against school faculty, administration, and students.

University Phishing Attacks on the Rise

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued a consumer alert in April of 2021 after an increase in phishing attacks aimed at college students was discovered. Specifically, scammers have been emailing students and claiming to have important information about their tax refunds.

These emails contain a link that, when clicked, asks for personal information that includes full names, Social Security numbers, birthdates, and even driver’s license numbers. This information, if provided, is then used by hackers to steal identities. In some cases, personal information from students is being sold to a market of more identity thieves.

This is just one example of a recent rise in phishing schemes against schools. Another example, which was also seen around April of 2021, involves college ransomware attacks. Specifically, hackers carried out a series of phishing and ransomware attacks against schools, including the University of California, the University of Colorado, and the Stanford University School of Medicine.

With these attacks, information of students and employees (such as Social Security numbers and financial data) was obtained by hackers through a phishing scheme. The hackers threatened to post/share this information if they did not pay a ransom. Sadly, this trend of demanding a ransom payment in exchange for securing stolen data is not new—but it is a problem plaguing the world of education more than ever.

How Can Students Protect Themselves?

With instances of phishing and ransomware attacks on the rise in colleges and schools across the globe, students have a greater responsibility to protect themselves. Likewise, colleges and universities should provide extensive and high-quality cybersecurity training for students and faculty alike.

To reduce the risk of falling victim to a phishing attack, students should always be careful about clicking on links or opening attachments within emails. Even if an email seems like a trusted source, it’s always best to air on the side of caution. Students who receive an email from somebody claiming to represent the IRS or another government agency should reach out to that agency directly via telephone to confirm whether the communication is legitimate.

Schools Can Increase Security With Dedicated Hosting

While some of the burdens lie on students to protect their personal information, schools indeed share some responsibility to keep student data safe. One of the best ways to improve security at any school is using dedicated hosting for education. ReliableSite is here to help, so reach out today.