Defending Against Cyber Attacks: An Academy’s Essential Guide

What is a Cyber Attack and How Do They Work?

A cyber attack is a malicious attempt to gain unauthorized access to a computer system or network with the intent to steal, disrupt, or damage data. Cyber attackers use various techniques like malware, phishing, and social engineering to exploit vulnerabilities in systems and compromise security.

As information technology continues to advance, the risk of cyber attacks has also increased. A cyber attack, which is an intentional and malicious attempt to breach security information and disrupt business processes, can result in financial loss and a loss of confidence from stakeholders such as shareholders, investors, employees, and customers. According to the 2020 Cyber Resilient Organization Report by IBM Security®, more than 50% of organizations experienced a cybersecurity incident that disrupted information technology (IT) and business processes, with insider threats being one of the most common cybersecurity threats. With the increasing adoption of cloud computing and other IT trends, it’s important to have a trusted incident response team on standby to reduce response time, minimize the impact of a cyberattack, and help with recovery by utilizing computer security tools and technology.

Cyber resilience is a critical aspect of cyber security that involves an organization’s ability to prevent, withstand, and recover from cybersecurity threats and attacks. It integrates business continuity, information systems security, and organizational resilience. Organizations must focus on building cyber resilience by implementing measures such as firewalls, endpoint security, advanced malware protection, and DNS security to defend against cyber events.

By doing so, they can improve their ability to detect cyber threats and respond to them with greater speed and effectiveness, including the use of key cybersecurity technologies and best practices like security information and event management (SIEM), security orchestration, automation and response (SOAR), and endpoint detection and response (EDR). The IBM Security X-Force Threat Intelligence Index provides valuable insights to help organizations prepare for cyber attacks. for individuals and businesses to take proactive measures to protect their information and systems from cybersecurity threats and attacks.

Exposed: Cyber Attacker’s Preferred Target

Cyber attacks and information breaches within the academic sector have received much less media attention than attacks on health, financial and industrial sectors. Nevertheless, based on a number of reports since 2014, academic institutions are part of the 3 most targeted sectors. Furthermore, attacks against academic institutions have been around for over 3 decades, and they are not going away. In fact, the private sector is also at risk, as seen in the recent SolarWinds Sunburst attack, a Trojan horse attack which impacted major US government offices and private sector organizations.

Samples and Stats On Attacks Targeting Academic Institutions

In the past couple of years, institutes such as Harvard University, Greenwich University, and the University of Montreal have been targeted. The academic institution’s size or location is irrelevant, they are all targets and this is based on the purpose

In today’s digital era, cyber attacks are increasing day by day. Cyber attacks can cause serious damage to individuals and organizations alike. To manage cyber risks, it is important to stay informed about current cyber trends and attacks, strengthen defenses, and implement preventative measures. Organizations must balance these risks against attainable opportunities and competitive advantages while also considering cost-effective prevention measures and rapid detection and correction for cyber resilience.

One of the primary targets for cybercriminals in the remote work world is the endpoint, making it crucial to understand common cyber risks that employees face and invest in endpoint security solutions capable of detecting and preventing assaults, including ransomware attacks, malware attacks, and new vulnerabilities.

A few reasons why academic institutions are targeted by cybercriminals include: Obtaining exams prior to exam date; The change of records and grades; Academic research theft; Theft of financial and personally identifiable information (PII); Mischief, and other malicious intentions against the institution. Academic institutions that have been hit by ransomware attacks could undergo high financial loss, loss of intellectual property, reputational damage, and data theft.

In recent years, advances in technology have made it easier for cyber attacks to be performed and successful. The main cyber attack vector is emails, which can be very vulnerable. Worldwide statistics show that around 75% of cyber attacks originate from malicious emails, including spear phishing attacks targeting academic institutions. Students, professors, and other staff within these institutions might have a low level of awareness, leading them to open emails without thinking that they might contain malicious content such as social media-based phishing attempts to steal login information.

Main Cyber Attack Techniques Used

Social engineering methods for deception are applied to lure the targeted victim to open an email. The malicious email can contain different types of infected files disguised as something else, such as a CV, a meeting invitation, or a request to review a research draft. These emails can also include a URL link to a compromised website pretending to show relevant materials to the targeted recipient. Accessing an infected attachment or malicious website through the URL link could open a direct connection to a command and control (C&C) used by the attacker. Once this action has taken place, the hacker could steal, modify or encrypt data, including sensitive information like usernames, passwords, and credit card numbers, using techniques such as SQL injection attacks, having severe consequences on the affected victim.

Academic institutions are taking steps to mitigate such exposures to attacks. Implementing Firewalls, Secure Browsing, Antivirus software, Sandbox, and even promoting cyber awareness are all part of a security framework. The real question is; How sure are they about their vulnerabilities to cyber-attacks?

The Questions Acedmic Institutions Have to Ask

As academic institutions work to strengthen their cybersecurity measures, the question remains: how confident are they in their ability to fend off cyber attacks? While steps like implementing firewalls, secure browsing, antivirus software, and promoting cyber awareness are all part of a comprehensive security framework, computer networks must also be protected from common cyber attack techniques used by hackers, such as proactive threat hunting and network security. It is essential to continuously assess vulnerabilities to ensure the safety of sensitive data.

The main attack vector—malicious emails—poses a significant threat due to their ability to exploit low levels of awareness among students, professors, and staff. Social engineering techniques are used to deceive victims into opening infected files or visiting compromised websites.

As academic institutions strive to safeguard their sensitive information from cyber attacks, it becomes crucial for them to assess and gain a clearer understanding of their vulnerabilities. While implementing firewalls, secure browsing, antivirus software, and sandboxing are important components of a robust security framework, it is equally essential for these institutions to gauge the effectiveness of these measures through security awareness training. This training can help users identify and avoid some of the most common cyberattack vectors, such as phishing and other social engineering attacks, making it a crucial aspect of cyberattack prevention, detection, and response.

In order to do so, academic institutions should consider conducting regular penetration tests or vulnerability assessments. By simulating real-world cyber attacks, these tests can help identify potential loopholes in their systems and networks. This way, any weaknesses can be promptly addressed and remedial actions.

How Can You Secure Your Academic Institution?

The Cymulate platform ensures that organizations don’t make any false assumptions about their security posture. Through a combination of offensive methods, such as Attack Surface Management (ASM), automated red teaming campaigns or phishing awareness campaigns, security controls efficiency validation with Breach and Attack Simulation (VAS), and vulnerability prioritization optimization with Attack Based Vulnerability Management (ABVM), Cymulate helps organizations to expose critical vulnerabilities in their security infrastructure, including mobile devices, before a real attack does.

Attack Surface Management (EASM), which helps institutions identify potential weaknesses in their systems and networks by analyzing their external attack surface. This allows for proactive measures to be taken before any vulnerabilities are exploited by attackers. Automated red teaming campaigns offered by Cymulate simulate real-world cyber attacks, giving academic institutions a realistic assessment of their defenses.

By leveraging the Cymulate platform, academic institutions can significantly enhance their cybersecurity measures against cyber attacks. The platform offers a comprehensive range of offensive methods that ensure organizations do not make any false assumptions about their security posture.

What Are The Next Steps?

The next steps in securing your academic institution’s cybersecurity against cyber attacks would involve implementing a comprehensive security solution. Here are some recommended actions:

1. Conduct a thorough risk assessment: Identify potential vulnerabilities and prioritize them based on their impact and likelihood of exploitation.

2. Implement strong access controls: Ensure that user accounts have secure passwords and that access to sensitive information is restricted to authorized personnel only.

3. Regularly update software and systems: Apply patches and updates promptly to address any known vulnerabilities or weaknesses.

4. Educate staff and students on cybersecurity best practices: Train them to recognize phishing attempts, avoid suspicious

Test now your organization’s security controls with Cymulate’s advanced attack simulations. The assessment’s results might shock you or assure you that you have been performing well. It’s safe to say that after an assessment, you won’t rely on false assumptions.

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