7 Steps to More Cyber-Safe Schools

Students may get time off when school breaks for summer. The faculty, however, will be working as hard as ever. In addition to fine-tuning the curriculum and finalizing class schedules, they’ll be looking at ways to continue integrating technology into the learning environment.

Today, technology enhances almost every aspect of K-12 education processes—from creating richer, more engaging learning experiences to streamlining administration. But with all the enhancements, come risks. Especially those risks to the integrity of sensitive student and staff data, including:

  • Social security numbers and birthdates
  • Test scores
  • Medical records
  • Text exam answers
  • Home addresses

The vast majority of this information is stored and communicated digitally and increasingly in the cloud, making it highly vulnerable to compromise, theft and even ransomware. The widespread use of personal mobile devices and USB drives compounds the risk, exposing data when devices are lost, stolen or misused in any way. The consequences are worse when data isn’t encrypted.

Digital Innovation and Data Security Go Hand-In-Hand

Despite the risks, digital innovation is a must in K-12 school districts. But it needs to go hand-in-hand with data security. Here are 7 steps recommended to prevent and mitigate threats:

1. Secure Every Device

Staff members should not be able to freely access data on their mobile devices—unless your district uses personal profiles to ensure all school employees meet approved security requirements. Consider mobile device management tools with the flexibility to add or remove devices as needed.

2. Encrypt, Encrypt, Encrypt!

Unencrypted data can be stolen, leaked or held for ransom. Most schools implement a firewall; but data at rest on servers, desktops and other devices should be encrypted to protect if from threats that get through.

3. Employ Data Loss Prevention (DLP)

Employ DLP at both the network and host level. This ensures rules are in place to regulate outbound data flow. It also alerts officials of attempts to transfer data to unsecured or unauthorized devices.

4. Filter Web Traffic

Cybersecurity is not just about protecting data. It’s also about protecting students from exposure to harmful content. Whether it’s restricting access to social media sites or disallowing posting to these sites, web filtering is another way to keep schools safe. It’s also federal law since the passing of the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) in 2000.

5. Educate Staff

Administrators and teachers alike should understand best IT safety practices. Establish clear, consistent policies about the steps teachers must take to ensure data is secure.

6. Educate Students

Even the youngest students are capable of understanding good digital citizenship. With almost 100% of U.S. schools having Internet access, educating students on Internet safety is critical.

7. Keep Security Systems and Software Up-To-Date

If there’s a weak link in your network, it WILL be exposed — and fast. School districts need to upgrade systems regularly to ensure they can stand up to the latest threats; and apply software patches to address known security flaws.

8. Outsource Activities Outside Your Core Competencies

School staff are in the business of education, not cybersecurity. In this day and age, technology is no longer an extra; and school budgets need to support the outsourcing of essential network security tasks like monitoring and ongoing maintenance.

Keeping schools safe from cyber threats is hard work, but working with a network security expert can make it much easier.

Top Healthcare Technology Trends Impacting Information Security

Healthcare rose to the top of the list of cyber threat targets in 2015; and is expected to stay there in 2016, as emerging technology trends expose networks and data to new areas of vulnerability. Electronic health records, the exploding use of “headless” medical devices, and clinicians’ growing reliance on smartphones and tablets to do more in less time are just some of the technology trends that have made information security a prime concern as the New Year progresses.

With more than 90% of healthcare organizations report having experienced a data breach within last five years, it’s worth taking a closer look at the technology factors that have the biggest impact on cybersecurity.

  • Expanding attack surfaces. The rising use of hand-held medical devices by patients to cut costs, improve access and enable “anytime, anywhere” treatment, diagnosis and monitoring is expanding network attack surfaces for many healthcare providers. The misuse or misplacement of these devices—both intentional and in error—make healthcare networks more vulnerable to intrusion.
  • Mobile devices. Clinicians are under constant pressure to deliver more care to more patients in less time—all while meeting increasingly rigorous medical reporting requirements. In response, many are turning to smartphones, tablets and other mobile technologies to help them address these pressures and improve the quality of care with more accurate and timely medical records. Nevertheless, the benefits come with risks stemming from the increase in network access points opened by mobile devices.
  • Electronic health records. Widely accessible online, electronic health records (EHRs) are packed with highly valuable, personally identifiable patient data—making them a prime target for cyber attack. The known vulnerabilities of healthcare networks only add to their appeal.

How Can Healthcare Companies Protect Themselves?

While technology has enabled healthcare organizations to make significant strides in streamlining performance, compliance and the delivery and quality of care, cybersecurity efforts have not kept pace. But since healthcare rose to the top of the list of attack targets, cybersecurity pros have woken up to the problem and recognize the need to make the protection of patient data, medical devices and networks a priority. Major areas of focus include:

  • Patient education. Patients need to be aware of existing and potential cybersecurity threats and provided with guidelines on securing mobile devices and health records. Proper password hygiene and adherence to basic user security protocols is key. So is knowing how to avoid and report phishing and social engineering attempts.
  • Threat assessments. Regular threat assessments are effective in identifying known and possible vulnerabilities in healthcare networks and security systems—taking into account new and emerging threats, and empowering organizations to respond preemptively and successfully to these threats.
  • Awareness. Cybersecurity teams need to keep up with changes in dynamic threat environments, anticipating what’s ahead and implementing layered strategies that can address threats that have the stealth and persistence to slip past first lines of defense.
  • Responsiveness. All modern organizations need to have an emergency preparedness plan in place to mitigate harm in the event of a data breach.

In the face of rising cyber threats, the steps provided here can go a long way to reduce risk in healthcare environments. Learn more about the cybersecurity strategies and solutions Citon offers.

Don’t Be Fooled By Undercover Malware: Watch Out For Ghostware, Two-faced Malware and Compressed Files

The costs of data breaches can be staggering. Consider the breach at Anthem last year that cost the health insurer $100 million. Target topped that loss a year earlier with a breach that exceeded $162 million. With stakes this high, it’s more cost-effective for companies to prevent intrusions than deal with the consequences; and many are increasing spending on cybersecurity.

But with the expanding number of attack surfaces and growing tenacity and creativity of cyber criminals, it’s become more difficult for organizations to keep the upper hand. This is especially true in the fight against malware. As malware detection tools improve, malware authors find new ways to create malicious code that conceal signs of compromise or avoid detection by security sandboxes and scanning technologies. Among the most dangerous malware threats to beware of in 2016 are ghostware, two-faced malware and malware hidden in compressed files. Here’s what you need to know about each of them.


Security monitoring software is constantly searching for signs of abnormal behavior, and most of today’s intrusions eventually catch a security administrator’s attention. Ghostware tries to get around this by wiping out evidence of malware’s activity, leaving no records behind to alert an organization that it’s been breached. Organizations that do figure out they were breached, often can’t tell which data was compromised or who was behind the attack. Other dangerous software takes an opposite tact—like blastware, which instead of erasing all traces to avoid discovery, wipes out entire servers if it recognizes it was detected. All to often, the consequences for victims include the high costs of data loss and operational downtime.

Two-faced Malware

Some malware—like two-faced malware, for example—plays innocent before revealing its true colors. Written to register as safe when evaluated by threat intelligence programs, two-faced malware recognizes when it’s in a sandbox, and performs its malicious action after the sandbox grants it access to the network. Even worse, once a sandbox rates two-faced malware as benign, future enhanced versions of that malware may not be examined in the sandbox at all.

Compressed Files

File compression is necessary to reduce file sizes for efficient transmission, but malware finds compressed files to be convenient hiding places. Some security software can scan only ZIP files, not other compressed formats. These compression techniques often prevent suspicious files from being recognized by the scan. Compressed archives can also contain multiple files that individually aren’t dangerous; but taken together, are malicious. Fortinet’s “Test Your Metal” tool lets you test your network security software to see how well it handles malware in a compressed file.

So, what can you do?

Get ahead of the threats. Experts think more malware will use these techniques this year, so it’s important to get your defenses in place now. Start with assessing your environment to identify the specific risks you face, and work with experts to deploy effective technologies to protect you against current and upcoming threats. Learn more about how Citon specialists can help.