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N4L report shows schools face online threat rise

While there’s plenty to digest in Network for Learning’s first data and insights report, the security challenge facing schools stands out.

The report coincided with turbulent times for schools, teachers and students. Part of the period covered was when students were sent home and asked to continue studying online as the nation locked down to respond to the Covid pandemic.

Attacks peaked a week after students returned to their classrooms after the nationwide pandemic lockdown. At one point New Zealand’s schools were on the wrong end of more than 2,000 online threats a minute.

distributed denial of service attacks on the N4L network

You can see how distributed denial of service attacks peaked at this time.

The report covers online safety between April and July 2020. That’s term 2 in New Zealand. It includes 22 days of remote learning when students were away from N4L’s managed network.

During this time N4L blocked more than 120 million individual threats. This represents a 13.7 percent increase on term 1.

Phishing

Phishing remained the most common threat. N4L blocked more than 150 attempts per school per day during term 2. The number of attempts was 44 percent lower than in term 1.

This suggests criminals attacking school computers had moved on to fresh pastures.

Meanwhile, the number of virus and malware incidents climbed during term 2. As did unauthorised attempts to access school networks.

Schools were not alone. All forms of online crime surged as the pandemic sent students and workers home. There were more threats and the severity of threats increased. Many were designed to prey on people’s anxieties triggered by Covid. The criminals also saw opportunity with people using less secure home networks.

Low-hanging fruit

Online criminals tend to focus on low-hanging fruit. There are enough targets with little or inadequate security to keep many of them busy. N4L’s report doesn’t say this, but you can deduce that the crooks find easier pickings when students log on from home than when they use the internet at school.

Not all threats for school students working online are from criminals chasing money.

While N4L works to keep students safe from harm, pornography represented just 1.4 percent of blocked websites. It also works to keep students focused on learning. Two-thirds of blocked sites were file-sharing, social networking, games, online storage and free software downloads.

New Zealand school internet use continues to rise. The N4L network consumed 174 terabytes each day in term 2. The average consumption is around a gigabyte per student.

N4L CEO Larrie Moore says: “This year we are building our security operations capabilities, providing greater cyber security support to schools and continuing a four-year Ministry of Education programme to upgrade the wireless networks inside schools.”

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