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Phishing Prevention for Educational Institutions: Key Characteristics to Look For in an AI-Powered Anti-Phishing Technology Solution

In the digital age, educational institutions face the increasing risk of phishing attacks which can compromise students’ sensitive information. This article provides insight into how educational institutions can choose the right AI-Powered anti-phishing solution to strengthen their security controls against such threats.

Phishing attacks have become an increasingly prevalent and persistent threat to organizations of all sizes, and educational institutes are no exception. As institutions of higher learning become more dependent on digital systems and online communication, the likelihood of falling victim to phishing attacks also increases.

Educational institutions can use AI (Artificial Intelligence) to power anti-phishing solutions. However, with numerous options on the market, it can be difficult and confusing to determine which solution will best meet their needs. This text will explore the essential characteristics to look for in an AI-powered anti-phishing technology solution to help educational institutes protect their sensitive information and maintain the trust of their stakeholders. The right solution can always ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of sensitive and confidential data of the institutions.

Statistics: Phishing in the Education Sphere

The following are some alarming statistics concerning phishing and other cyber attacks targeting the educational sector.

  • According to the 2021 Netwrix Cloud Data Security Report, most educational organizations encountered phishing attacks (60%) and account compromise (33%) in 2020.
  • The K-12 Cybersecurity Center reported a record-breaking 408 cybersecurity incidents across 377 school districts in 40 states.
  • Cyberattacks targeting educational institutions increased by 75% in 2023.
  • In 2021, the education sector ranked as the third-largest industry targeted by spam and credential phishing attempts, numbering over 2 million.

What Makes Educational Institutions a Lucrative Phishing Target?

Educational institutions have become a lucrative target for malicious actors for several reasons, as listed below. It shows how vital the need for advanced phishing prevention methods for educational institutions is.

  • Research Material, Patents, IP: Innovation and patenting are crucial aspects upon which universities rely heavily for economic growth. Threat actors seek to disrupt these critical activities and the associated benefits they provide, making them a prime target for cyberattacks. The institutions store valuable intellectual property, including research material, patents, and other sensitive information that threat actors can monetize for their gain.
  • Lack of Expert and Experienced Security Personnel: Many educational institutes lack expert and experienced security personnel to monitor and protect their digital infrastructure, making them an easy target for cyberattacks. Additionally, the lack of experienced personnel implies that universities may need help implementing adequate security measures.
  • Changing Phishing Tactics: Another reason educational institutes are a prime target for malicious actors is the constantly evolving nature of phishing tactics. Such attacks often employ sophisticated techniques that can trick even the most tech-savvy individuals into giving away their personal information. As remote learning and digital communication practices become widespread, phishing tactics are becoming more sophisticated, making it more challenging for educational institutes to protect their staff and students.

Two Main Ways Through Which Threat Actors Target Educational Institutions

The following points show how threat actors can infiltrate restricted databases of educational institutions and what attack vector vectors they use to carry out their malicious operations.

  • Outdated or Unpatched Systems: Threat actors can infiltrate obsolete or unpatched systems of educational institutions by exploiting known vulnerabilities in software, operating systems, or applications that haven’t been updated or patched. They can use tools like port scanners to find open ports and identify vulnerable services. Once they gain access to the system, they can install malware, steal data, or use the system to launch further cyberattacks.
  • Variety of Phishing Techniques: Phishing is a tried-and-true method for malicious actors, and they often use it to camouflage malware as a message from a reliable and trustworthy source. These threat actors often deploy social engineering tactics through email, phone calls, or text messages (smishing), with email being the most favored method. The threat actors request access to privileged information or provide links to malicious attachments to deceive the recipient into downloading malware.

Note: Social engineering is a practice through which threat actors manipulate human psychology to lure unsuspecting targets into revealing sensitive information or acting in line with their objectives. Many educational institutions, particularly vulnerable to cyber threats with inconsistent and insufficient security training, are prime targets for these attacks. For instance, in 2017, MacEwan University in Edmonton, Canada, lost $11.8 million when a staff member became the victim of a phishing attack where the threat actor impersonated a vendor in an email requesting a change in the banking information.

What Educational Institutions Can Do to Keep Their Students Safe and Information Assets Secure

As is evident from the above sections, the cyber threat to universities, colleges, and schools is here to stay, and strict and immediate action is vital for all educational institutions. The following security measures and approaches will help them go a long way in protecting their critical data assets.

  • Endpoint Security: The concept of endpoint security may take time to capture one’s attention, but it is critical in the digital age. Endpoints, such as laptops, phones, and other devices, are vulnerable to cyber attacks, which may take the form of phishing incidents or other direct and indirect attempts. Endpoint-focused cybersecurity solutions are necessary to identify and address malware issues that traditional email and phishing defenses may overlook, especially for educational institutions.
  • Cybersecurity Expertise: Educational institutions and universities must work with IT administrators possessing expert cybersecurity knowledge. Increasingly sophisticated cyber-attacks necessitate more than a traditional IT team with limited cybersecurity expertise. Several public sector groups have established new cybersecurity roles to address this critical need. Educational institutions on tighter budgets can also go for vCISOs (Virtual Chief Information Security Officers) or the CSaaS (Cybersecurity-as-a-Service) models.
  • Use of AI as a Predictive Tool: One practical approach is to leverage AI technology to detect and prevent phishing attempts before they can cause any harm. AI can analyze factors such as email metadata, sender reputation, and message content to identify suspicious emails and flag them for review or automatically block them. Such a proactive approach can help reduce the risk of successful phishing attacks, especially as threat actors become more sophisticated in their tactics.
  • Selecting a Trusted Solution Provider: A trusted solution provider is critical to protecting educational institutions from phishing. The process of selecting one involves choosing a security vendor that has a proven track record of providing reliable and effective cybersecurity solutions and one that is up-to-date with the latest threats and trends in the cybersecurity landscape. By working with a reputable vendor, educational institutions can ensure they have access to the best tools and expertise to help mitigate the risk of phishing attacks.

Key Characteristics to Look For in an AI-Powered Anti-Phishing Solution

Here are key characteristics and aspects that educational institutions should look for and consider while selecting AI-powered anti-phishing solutions:

  1. Ease of Implementation: By prioritizing ease of implementation, academic institutions can simplify the deployment process, reduce the risk of errors, and ensure quick performance. Therefore, an ideal anti-phishing solution should be cloud-based and platform-agnostic, allowing it to be installed and operated seamlessly across multiple devices. It should work quietly in the background without disrupting the educational institutions’ productivity or daily activities.
  2. The MSP/MSSP’s Reputation and Support:  A reputable MSP (Managed Service Provider) or MSSP (Managed Security Service Provider) with a history of providing high-quality anti-phishing solutions can instill confidence in an educational institution, indicating that they are partnering with a trustworthy and reliable provider. Moreover, a robust support system provided by the MSP/MSSP can offer a safety net for educational institutions, as they can seek expert guidance and support in addressing any issues that may arise. It can be crucial for institutions with limited IT staff or cybersecurity knowledge.
  3. Quality of Service: Educational institutions should prioritize the quality of service offered by an AI-powered anti-phishing solution. Quality of service is essential to maintain the security and integrity of the institution’s network and data and to ensure the safety of its students, faculty, and staff. The solution should be designed to provide reliable and efficient protection against phishing attacks while guaranteeing minimal disruption to daily activities and should be regularly updated.
  4. IT Environment Setup: The efficacy of any anti-phishing solution also depends on the specific IT environment in which it is deployed. By assessing the IT environment, educational institutions can identify unique characteristics or requirements that must be considered in selecting an anti-phishing solution. Evaluating the IT environment can also help them determine the scope of the anti-phishing solution, ensuring that it is tailored to meet their specific needs and providing the essential features and capabilities to detect and mitigate phishing attacks effectively.

Phishing attacks are a significant threat to educational institutions as they target students and faculty members, compromising sensitive information and damaging institutional reputation. AI-powered anti-phishing solutions can help prevent these attacks by detecting and mitigating phishing attempts in real-time.

With an AI-powered anti-phishing technology solution, educational institutions can enhance their cybersecurity posture and protect their sensitive data and resources from the growing threat of advanced phishing attacks. As the threat landscape continues to evolve, investing in state-of-the-art anti-phishing technology is essential for educational institutions to secure their digital infrastructure and protect their staff, students, and other stakeholders.

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  2. Goled, S. (2020, October 4). AI is A double-edged sword in phishing. Retrieved February 16, 2023, from Analytics India Magazine website:
  3. Landau, S. (2021, July 9). 7 phishing awareness and anti-phishing tips for the education sector. Retrieved February 16, 2023, from eLearning Industry website:
  4. The top 5 cyber threats within the education sector. (2022, June 7). Retrieved February 16, 2023, from website:
  5. Bresnick, P. (2021, March 8). 4 Reasons Cyber Criminals Are Targeting Higher Education: Part 1 Retrieved February 16, 2023, from website:

Brad Hudson

Cybersecurity Practice Leader

About Columbia Advisory Group

Founded in Dallas in 2012, Columbia Advisory Group LLC (CAG) is an established IT consulting firm renowned for delivering cost-effective, meaningful, and practical IT solutions that solve complex business problems. Our seasoned teams offer comprehensive insight across diverse regulatory and economic environments, providing unbiased, straightforward analysis and recommendations. We pride ourselves on our deep understanding of IT while remaining software and hardware-agnostic. Regardless of your organization’s growth trajectory or economic landscape, we at CAG are adept at adapting to your unique needs and complexity, offering tailored solutions to drive your success.

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