What Role Does Cybersecurity Awareness Play in Education? | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #ransomware

Cybersecurity is an essential consideration for any organization that deals in the digital sphere on any level, and the education sector is no exception. In recent years, the global pandemic and technological advances have led to a massive shift toward online learning, which has posed a number of challenges to educators and administrators.

Facilitating digital education presents a logistical maelstrom that many educational institutions are not prepared to handle. It is vital for these institutions to account for cybersecurity in their digital operations, and this includes ensuring that staff and students are equipped with the knowledge necessary to prevent malicious attacks and accidental security incidents.

The education sector also plays a crucial role in training the future workforce to be more cybersecurity aware by promoting secure behaviors when it comes to the use of technology and the internet.

Fortra’s Terranova Security recently published an eBook exploring the need for cybersecurity awareness in education.

Security Challenges in Digital Learning

The education sector is a prominent target for cybercrime these days because bad actors are all too aware of the difficulties that learning institutions face in securing their online presence. They often lack the expertise, funding, and other resources necessary to adequately protect against cyberattacks, and the attackers know this.

Educational institutions are also at risk of data breaches or ransomware because they tend to handle large amounts of sensitive data, including personally identifiable information on students, parents/guardians, and faculty members.

Some of the specific cybersecurity challenges facing educational institutions include:

  1. Online learning platforms used by schools lack sufficient security measures. The use of private devices, weak password hygiene, and a false sense of security exacerbate this issue.
  2. The threat landscape is constantly evolving to keep up with defensive practices and tools, making it difficult to protect systems without adaptable solutions.
  3. Expansion of technology ecosystems means a larger attack surface and integration of tech that is not compatible has the potential to create security gaps.
  4. Many schools face severe financial limitations, struggling to fund even basic functions, much less cybersecurity measures.
  5. The education sector is one—like financial services or healthcare—that tends to be held to stricter regulations for compliance and privacy.
  6. Staff and faculty may have varying levels of knowledge of technology, cyber threats and security best practices, each requiring their own learning path.
  7. Strict schedules and limited time in a calendar year reduces the time available to follow awareness activities, which forces institutions to create programs that can obtain value in less time and frequency.

Importance of Cybersecurity Awareness in Education

The difficulties faced by educational institutions in protecting against cybercrime only serve to drive home the need for cybersecurity awareness. According to IBM’s 2023 Cost of a Data Breach report, a data breach in the education sector costs an average of $3.65 million USD, which is slightly less costly than last year’s $3.86 million but still an alarming statistic. Another report from Check Point Research states that education and research is the most targeted industry, suffering more than 2,000 attacks per week, twice as much as other sectors.

Cybersecurity awareness training is one of the most fundamental actionable steps that organizations can take to protect their data and other assets. In education, the potential is high for a single human error to lead to a serious security incident.

Students and faculty alike are liable to fall for phishing attacks and allow attackers to infiltrate or otherwise harm the institution. Around three-quarters (75%) of data breaches involve the human element, and cybersecurity awareness is a crucial part of preventing them.

Cybersecurity awareness training can also benefit educational institutions by supporting existing IT functions and using human awareness as a tool to supplement technological solutions. It teaches insiders how to detect and respond to potential threats, protects sensitive data, empowers workers, and fosters a security-minded environment within an institution. It can also reduce the impact of any cyberattacks that occur.

Implementing an Effective Training Program

In order to use cybersecurity awareness training to the greatest possible benefit, an educational institution should be sure to implement a program that meets its needs and follows certain best practices. Training that only occurs once is not likely to be effective, as the human risk factor continues to pose a challenge long past when that training takes place. Continuous training that keeps users up to date on the latest technology and the threat landscape is recommended.

An effective cybersecurity awareness training program will motivate lasting change and empower users to learn in a meaningful way. There are many methods and measures that institutions can look for in a training program, depending on their particular needs and resources. According to Terranova Security, some of the pillars of a good training program are:

  • Content that is high-quality, relevant, and delivered in various formats using gamified elements to engage and motivate users.
  • Real-world simulations designed to give users hands-on practice in detecting and responding to threats.
  • Risk-based and role-based training that tailors to specific roles within an institution.
  • Personalized and pre-built training options for an element of choice and flexibility.


The education sector is a common target for cybercriminals due to a variety of factors that make educational institutions easy to attack and difficult to protect.

Schools manage large volumes of sensitive data, the accounts and devices of students and faculty make up a huge attack surface, and issues with funding and staffing pervade the industry. Protecting against attacks requires a robust and layered security strategy, and a solid cybersecurity awareness training program is essential.

For more information, you can download the full “Cyber Security Awareness: The New Essential in Education” eBook here.


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National Cyber Security