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Risk of cybercrime underestimated by educational institutions

While educational institutions are increasingly being targeted by cybercriminals, the threat posed by cybercrime to the field of education is seriously underestimated by most board members and administrators in the sector. This is one of the most striking results of a survey commissioned by ICT specialist Breens Network and conducted by market research agency Kantar

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While educational institutions are increasingly being targeted by cybercriminals, the threat posed by cybercrime to the field of education is seriously underestimated by most board members and administrators in the sector. This is one of the most striking results of a survey commissioned by ICT specialist Breens Network and conducted by market research agency Kantar among managers and IT professionals in secondary general and vocational education. In fact, the majority of educational institutions involved in the study, spend 5% or less of their IT budgets on computer security, as compared to a typical minimum of 25% in the corporate sector.

Education as a favourite target for cybercriminals

According to the Microsoft Security Intelligence division, in more than 60% of all instances of cyber-attacks worldwide, educational institutions are the targets of choice. Among the recent victims of cybercrime in The Netherlands were the Staring College, the NWO, the University of Amsterdam, Hogeschool Inholland, the Radboud University and the University of Maastricht. The evidence of a worrying trend is hard to miss, but just the same, only 20% of the administrators and IT specialists involved in the Kantar study turn out to be aware of the situation’s severity.

Over 40% of the surveyed educational institutions admit to having been faced, over the course of 2020, with problems related to IT security. The three most common threats in the field of education, as mentioned by the respondents, are DDoS attacks (62%), ransomware (50%) and malware (50%). “Hardly a day goes by without a DDoS attack on our systems”, says one of the IT officers involved in the study. Remarkably enough, the risk of phishing is generally underestimated, whereas in reality, phishing is more common than ransomware and malware attacks.

The most mentioned effects of cyber-attacks are loss of time and energy (69%), cost (65%) and reduced accessibility (48%). Among the things educational institutions are most worried about, in terms of the effects of cybercrime, are disruption of the continuity of education, personal data breaches and inappropriate use of computer systems by students and staff. “More and more applications are running at external locations, which means that an external DDoS attack can seriously disrupt the internal education processes”, says one IT specialist, while another highlights the special vulnerabilities in these pandemic-defined times: “An infrastructural shutdown would have disastrous effects, since it would cause all classes to be cancelled, especially the classes that are now being conducted online.

Breens Network CEO Geert-Jan van der Snoek is not in the least surprised by the interest cybercriminals appear to have in the education industry. “As is true for modern society as a whole, education too has become a deeply digitised discipline, as a direct result of its innovation, the drive for lifelong learning, personalised, more inclusive forms of education and all sorts of hybrid learning environments. With the enormous volumes of digitised information now present in educational IT systems, including personal data, financial data, research results, email addresses and sometimes even medical data, cybercriminals, once inside, must feel like a kid in a candy store,” says Van der Snoek. “Educational institutions are way up there on every cybercriminal’s shortlist of favourite targets, which means that it is high time for cybercrime to feature just as high on the agendas of all parties whose joint responsibility it is to provide sustainable and safe hybrid education – the schools themselves, their boards and the government.

Increase in cyber-attacks, standstill in IT security

In spite of the steep increase in the number of cyber-attacks aimed at educational institutions, 63% of the institutions involved in the Kantar study mention an unchanged status of their security policies. Even within the subset of institutions indicating to have stepped up their security, the measures actually taken do not always appear to be sufficiently effective to really keep the risks under control. One of the most striking results of the study is that the majority of educational institutions spend 5% or less of their IT budgets on computer security, as compared to a typical minimum of 25% in the corporate sector, which means that businesses spend – at least – five times as much.

The need to do more

The study shows that, in the field of education, the subject of IT security is a frequent topic of conversation, although the debate is usually confined to the IT departments. What is missing is the commitment, on an administrative level, to really tackle the issue, taking action where necessary, monitoring the situation and reporting on it, openly and transparently. There is a mismatch, a discrepancy between ‘saying’ and ‘doing’, between administrative accountability and the delegation of responsibility.

Educational institutions that are still underestimating the risk of cybercrime, are living very dangerously,” Van der Snoek points out. “What is true for business, is true for organisations in the field of education as well. If they are found to have been lacking in taking appropriate security measures, they can be held accountable for damages incurred by pupils, students and/or third parties as a result of their negligence. Not to mention the reputational damage the organisation itself suffers as a result of the disruption of educational continuity.

Providing a sustainable and safe hybrid education environment is not primarily the IT department’s job. The responsibility to do so clearly belongs to the board of the institution principally and to the members of the board personally.

Word of advice to the next Dutch government

The issue also calls for political involvement. In a letter dated May 25 to Mrs Hamer, who is currently conducting interviews in preparation of the formation of a new Dutch government, van der Snoek advises the next administration to develop a clear vision on better protecting educational institutions and students against cybercriminals and on the facilitation of safe hybrid education. One possible measure might involve the requirement for organisations in the field of education to include a dedicated paragraph on IT in their year reports. This would enhance social transparency and accountability, while also making it easier to monitor actions taken. Another advice would be to explicitly assign responsibility for cybersecurity to the boards of educational institutions.

Download whitepaper

Breens Network has compiled a (free) white paper (in Dutch) containing a number of considerations to help government agencies, educational institutions and policy makers in contributing to the creation of a sustainable, safe (hybrid) learning environment. You can download the white paper here.

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Acquisition of software developer Educator extends range of Breens Network service and product offering for the digital working and learning environment

With the recent acquisition of software developer Educator, Breens Network has strengthened its position as a provider of secure and reliable educational working and learning environments which allow students, staff, teachers and managers to maximise the efficiency of their digital infrastructures and achieve maximum result in supporting personal development. Breens Network was originally set up

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With the recent acquisition of software developer Educator, Breens Network has strengthened its position as a provider of secure and reliable educational working and learning environments which allow students, staff, teachers and managers to maximise the efficiency of their digital infrastructures and achieve maximum result in supporting personal development.

Breens Network was originally set up from the ambition of innovating the Dutch educational system through the implementation of new and established technologies. In our day and age, entire generations of students, teachers, staff, managers and directors are experiencing the transition from physical to digital, a process taking place within a dynamic environment which requires increased management of ongoing professionalisation, personalised learning from the cloud and socially relevant curricula, with safety and privacy also calling for new levels of attention. At the same time, there are several other challenges as well, due to the shortage of teachers, high workloads and overcrowded classrooms.

Breens Network, the new name for what was formerly known as Kofschip Groep, is a Dutch EdTech organisation, committed to the field of education and everything related to learning and teaching. Our primary objective is to support our customers in dealing with the process of digital transformation, helping them to increase their effectiveness, the quality of their output, their (cost) efficiency and the flexibility of their organisations. In doing so, we operate from the vision that the technology and advice we provide, unambiguously contribute to our customers achieving their organisational or personal targets. With the ultimate goal of making life as easy as possible for the educational institutions we support.

Breens Network’s strength is a result of its total commitment to the field of education and the concept of lifelong learning. Now more than ever, there is a profound need for guidance and advice, for development, implementation and management. In short, there is a need for trust”, says Geert-Jan van der Snoek, Breens Network CEO. “The acquisition of Educator marks a significant broadening of our range of services and a substantial reinforcement of our working and learning environment, particularly in terms of its safety and reliability”.

Educator was created in 2005, as part of the Putten-based Vanenburg Group, a family-owned investment group founded by Jan Baan. “We started Educator 15 years ago from our vision of ‘lifelong learning’. Today, we represent a highly innovative and market-leading software platform with its own dedicated SIS solution, a Student Information System for the education industry”, explains Paul Baan, speaking for the Vanenburg Group. “We see Breens Network is the ideal long-term partner, perfectly positioned to leverage the strength of Educator in providing a robust solution and driving advanced digitisation, unburdening of educational institutions and exploring additional opportunities in decentralised government and other markets.” “It allows us to focus more on our fast-growing software activities in the field of ERP optimisation, while also expanding the exploitation of Vanenburg Castle as a hotel, restaurant, convention centre and wedding venue”.

Educator is a developer of software applications for educational and decentralised government institutions, contributing, with the solutions it offers, to well organised schooling and effective student support. This way, the organisation has, since as early as 2005, broadened the options for personalised education. Committed to reliable and consistent development and management of software to help continuously improve and redefine the key processes of its customers. It makes Educator one of the most innovative Dutch software developers in the industries of education and healthcare and the market of decentralised government.

For Educator, joining the Breens Network organisation opens up new and improved opportunities for growth and a broadening of the options offered by the digital working and learning environment. “Our educational solutions, like the Student Information System, the Education Catalogue and the Study Guide, are an excellent addition to the products and services offered by Breens Network. Together, we can be successful in further strengthening our position in the market for digital working and learning environments. It also allows us, in cooperation with our customers, to speed up the ongoing process of re-innovating our solutions, while the operational scope of the Breens Network organisation provides the communities we serve with the certainty of continuity. This is all very good news, both for our customers and for the employees of Educator”, says Jan Jaap Kanis, General Director of Educator. “One of the key challenges educational institutions are facing, is adequately, proactively and flexibly meeting students’ requirements. To be able to do this, what you need is not only a partner who can offer practical know-how, you need a partner who can create cooperation and encourage the sharing of knowledge”.

About Breens Network

Breens Network was originally set up from the ambition to innovate by using both new and established technologies. Today, with SLBdiensten, IT-Workz, Slim.nl, MBOwebshop.nl, Slimindeklas.nl and Breens.nl, the organisation offers a distinctive and distinguishing brand portfolio. Breens Network is a Dutch ICT-organisation, committed to its customers in education, healthcare and decentralised government. It is our goal to support them in the process of digital transformation, helping them to increase their effectiveness, the quality of their output, their (cost) efficiency and the flexibility of their organisations. Operating, as we do, from the vision that the technology and advice we provide, unambiguously contribute to our customers achieving their organisational or personal targets. And making the best possible use of our extensive digital and technological expertise, complemented with in-depth knowledge of the markets we operate in.

The professionals employed by our organisation are a guarantee for effective and excellent partnerships. Together, they look after the needs of over one million students, 90,000 teachers, 40,000 staff members and virtually all of the Dutch schools in higher and secondary vocational education. Focus, in Breens Network’s operations, is on four central areas of competence: the digital working (and learning) environment, cloud migration & management, IT Security and Business Intelligence data apps. The company employs a total of 160 enthusiastic professionals. Its head office is in Amsterdam.

About Educator

Educator develops software applications for educational and decentralised government institutions, contributing, by doing so, to well-organised schooling and effective student support. This way, the organisation has, since as early as 2005, broadened the options for personalised education. From demand management and flexibilisation to formative evaluation, Educator has seen many new trends in the education industry. And through it all, by continuing to communicate with the institutions we have been working with over the years, we have become a genuine education partner, offering valuable practical expertise. The communication we have with the institutions we support, takes place on all levels of the organisations, covering operational, tactical and strategic issues. Apart from this, we actively promote dialogue between educational institutions in various forms of consultation forums, like user groups, steering committees and an Advisory Board. Here, we discuss not only topics related to our software and its ongoing development, but also the future of education in general and the role Educator can continue to play in particular.

Educator products are being used on a daily basis by thousands of students and educational professionals in secondary education, high schools, third level education and private schools. One example of the widely used Educator applications is the Student Information System, a tool allowing students, counsellors and other interested parties to monitor progress in the acquisition of skills and competencies. There is also a dedicated Educator design tool, which lets educational staff create and analyse optimally coherent education programs. And for easy documentation and presentation of these programs, Educator offers the Education Catalogue tool.

About Vanenburg Group

Vanenburg Group is a family-owned investment group established by Jan Baan, Chairman of Vanenburg Group, founder of Baan Company and Cordys and a successful investor in TopTier and WebEx. Today, operational executive authority is shared by a second-generation management team, consisting of the three brothers Paul, Ardjan and Bernhard Baan. As a software provider, Vanenburg assists large and medium-sized businesses in updating their IT-infrastructures by developing innovative ERP extensions & integrations. Vanenburg Group employs a staff of over 100 expert professionals in The Netherlands and India. The company operating from the authentic17th century Vanenburg Castle and Estate, located near the city of Putten in the Dutch province of Gelderland. This unique location also serves as a hotel, restaurant, convention centre and wedding venue.

For more information/not for publication:
Kay van de Linde, +31 6 2279 8118, k.vandelinde@press-strategies.nl

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