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Why is Organized Crime Targeting Higher Education with Ransomware?

Eastern European organized cybercrime organizations are intentionally targeting US Higher Education institutions with ransomware attacks because they believe that these organizations are vulnerable and easy targets. The goal of these attacks is to encrypt the organization’s data, making it inaccessible to the users, and then demand a ransom payment in exchange for the decryption key.

Higher education institutions are particularly vulnerable to ransomware attacks because they have large amounts of sensitive information, such as personal data, research data, and financial information, stored on their networks. They also have limited budgets and resources, which makes it difficult for them to implement and maintain effective security measures. Additionally, many higher education institutions have outdated systems and software, which are more susceptible to exploitation.

The cost-effective approach to preventing ransomware attacks on higher education institutions involves a combination of technical and non-technical measures.

Educause recommends institutions implement a comprehensive security framework that includes the following elements:

       • Network security: This includes the use of firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and antivirus software to prevent unauthorized access to the network.
       • Endpoint security: Including the use of antivirus software and other security tools on end-user devices, such as computers and smartphones, to protect against malware infections.
       • User awareness: Instituting training and communication educating users on safe computing practices, such as avoiding suspicious email attachments and not downloading software from untrusted sources.
       • Data backup and recovery: This involves regularly backing up important data and having a disaster recovery plan in place in case of a security breach.
       • Incident response plan: Institutions need a plan in place for responding to security incidents, such as ransomware attacks, to minimize the impact of the attack and reduce the recovery time.

Gartner recommends that institutions also implement the following measures:

       • Application control: Protocols controlling the execution of software on end-user devices to prevent the execution of malicious software.
       • File integrity monitoring: This involves monitoring the changes to files on the network to detect and prevent unauthorized changes.
       • Security information and event management (SIEM): Systematically collecting, analyzing, and reporting on security-related data to detect security incidents and respond to them.
       • Vulnerability management: Regularly scanning the network for vulnerabilities and patching them to prevent exploitation.

In addition to these technical measures, it is important for higher education institutions to have a culture of security, where data security is considered a top priority and all employees are trained on safe computing practices.

As Eastern European organized cybercrime organizations continually target US Higher Education institutions with ransomware attacks, the large amounts of sensitive information stored on their networks are vulnerable. A cost-effective approach to preventing these attacks involves a combination of technical and non-technical measures, such as network security, endpoint security, user awareness, data backup and recovery, and incident response planning. It is important for higher education institutions to have a culture of security and to educate their employees on safe computing practices.

Brad Hudson

Cybersecurity Practice Lead

About Columbia Advisory Group

Columbia Advisory Group (CAG) is a leading Information Technology (IT) consulting firm. CAG’s team has assessed and helped improve the performance of more than 300 technology organizations and IT departments, including many higher education institutions, state agencies, and Fortune 50 customers. Practice specialty areas include Infrastructure, IT Service Management, Cybersecurity, and A/V Services. CAG improves business outcomes with IT insights and expert technical support. Based in Dallas, Texas, CAG works extensively with clients throughout the U.S. Contact us at

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