Check Point Research: Education sector sees 27% increase in attacks against organizations in the Middle East

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  • Check Point Research (CPR) observes a steady increase in the average number of cyberattacks per organization weekly, with the education/research sector showing a higher number of attacks than other sectors 
  • In July 2021, there was a 27% increase in attacks against organizations in the education sector in the Middle East compared to H121.
  • By region, organizations in education/research sector in South Asia are most targeted, followed by East Asia, ANZ and Middle East.
Ram Narayanan, Country Manager, Check Point Software Technologies, Middle East

Check Point Research (CPR) reports that since mid-2020, we are seeing a steady increase in the weekly number of cyberattacks per organization globally, with the education/research sector being impacted at a higher rate than others. 

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced organizations to pivot suddenly to a mostly remote workforce. Within a matter of weeks, organizations that had no existing telework programs needed to adapt and update their infrastructure so that their employees, partners, and users could work from home. It is now mid-2021, and the end of the pandemic is nowhere in sight, with organizations in many sectors having to deal with an increasingly active and complex threat landscape. 

In particular, organizations in the education and research sector are finding themselves engaged in a cyber security battle like never before. This includes schools, universities, and research facilities. Most recently, the Department of Education in Australia’s New South Wales reported that it experienced a cyberattack which resulted in many of their online platforms shutting down, just days before remote learning was to commence in the new school term.  

Ram Narayanan, Country Manager, Check Point Software Technologies, Middle East said:

“The pandemic reshaped the online and remote learning models and expedited several years’ worth of IT changes into just a few weeks. When institutions across the globe were plunged into rapid remote learning, students adapted quickly to this model and so did universities and schools. It is also worth mentioning that educational institutions that weren’t digitally ahead did find it challenging to adapt and prepare for the new normal. As organizations scrambled to restructure their network and security environments overnight, the move to the cloud and digital transformation efforts were accelerated. This rapid move resulted in security gaps and new opportunities for cyber criminals. Institutions now look to close security gaps and secure their networks – from students and teachers PCs and mobiles to the enterprise data centers and the cloud, with a holistic, end-to-end security architecture. Organizations in the education sector should be proactive in their protection strategies. It’s important to constantly change and strengthen the passwords and use technologies that prevent cyber-attacks, such as ransomware. As a leading provider of cybersecurity solutions globally, Check Point Software is helping customers from different sectors in the region with solutions to close and eliminate these security gaps and build a scalable platform”.

In fact, in July 2021, education/research was the sector that experienced the highest volume of attacks, with an average of 1,739 attacks per organization weekly. This was a 29% increase from the first half of 2021 globally. The only sector which made a higher change from the first half of 2021 was Leisure, at 51%, as one might expect during the summer months. 

Figure 1: Weekly average number of attacks per organization globally – education sector vs other sectors (2020 – 2021) 

By region, organizations in the education/research sector in South Asia currently experience the highest volume of attacks, as seen in Figure 2, with an average of 5,084 attacks weekly per organization. This is a 23% increase compared to the first half of the year. This is followed by East Asia with 3,873 attacks (79% increase), ANZ with 3,684 attacks (17% increase) and Middle East with 3,444 attacks (27% increase).

Figure 2: Average weekly number of attacks on organizations in the education/research sector by region

Tips for academia, staff, and students to stay protected 

  • Passwords matter: it is a good idea to review and strengthen passwords that you use for logging onto remote resources, such as email or work applications.
  • Be phishing-aware: be wary of clicking on links that look in any way suspicious and only download content from reliable sources that can be verified. Remember that phishing schemes are a form of social engineering so if you receive an email with an unusual request, check the sender’s details carefully to make sure that you are communicating with colleagues, not cyber criminals. 
  • Reduce attack surface: A common approach in information security is to reduce the attack surface. For endpoints, you need to take full control of peripherals, applications, network traffic, and your data. You need to encrypt data when it is in motion, at rest, and in use. It is also important to make sure you enforce your corporate policies to achieve endpoint security compliance
  • Anti-ransomware technology allows you to detect signs of ransomware and uncover running mutations of known and unknown malware families by using behavioral analysis and generic rules
  • Contain and remediate: Contain attacks and control damage by detecting and blocking command and control traffic and prevent the lateral movement of malware by isolating infected machines. You can then remediate and sterilize your environment by restoring encrypted files, quarantining files, kill processes, and sterilizing the full attack chain.

Today more than ever, endpoint security plays a critical role in enabling your remote workforce. Harmony Endpoint provides comprehensive endpoint protection at the highest security level, crucial to avoid security breaches and data compromise. 

About Check Point Research:

Check Point Research provides leading cyber threat intelligence to Check Point Software customers and the greater intelligence community. The research team collects and analyzes global cyber-attack data stored on ThreatCloud to keep hackers at bay, while ensuring all Check Point products are updated with the latest protections. The research team consists of over 100 analysts and researchers cooperating with other security vendors, law enforcement and various CERTs. 

About Check Point Software Technologies Ltd.:

Check Point Software Technologies Ltd. is a leading provider of cyber security solutions to corporate enterprises and governments globally. Check Point Infinity ́s portfolio of solutions protects enterprises and public organizations from 5th generation cyber-attacks with an industry leading catch rate of malware, ransomware and other threats. Infinity comprises three core pillars delivering uncompromised security and generation V threat prevention across enterprise environments: Check Point Harmony, for remote users; Check Point CloudGuard, to automatically secure clouds; and Check Point Quantum, to protect network perimeters and datacenters, all controlled by the industry􏰄s most comprehensive, intuitive unified security management. Check Point protects over 100,000 organizations of all sizes.