In the past, purchasing cybersecurity insurance was considered a luxury rather than a necessity. However, as the number of cyber attacks continues to grow, many educational institutions have started to buy insurance policies to cover the damaging costs of malware and ransomware attacks.
The education sector saw the most cyber attacks in 2021 and 2022 compared to every other industry, including healthcare and finance. In addition, a recent report from IBM found that the average cost of a data breach has reached $4.35 million, the highest in history.
As schools shop for cyber insurance to protect their data, they may need to find ways to lower their insurance premiums to a rate that fits within their budget. This article will discuss how organizations in the education industry can lower their cyber insurance premiums and begin prioritizing cybersecurity.
Why is Cybersecurity Insurance Important?
Cybersecurity insurance or cyber liability insurance is important because it helps cover financial losses directly related to a cyber attack. Over time, the insurance industry has become more selective on which organizations to insure because the more cyber attacks that occur, the more expensive it becomes to cover the losses.
Cyber insurance can help schools recover from:
- Data breaches or leaks
- Cyber theft or extortion
- Ransomware attacks (recovery of lost data and ransom payments)
- Phishing attacks
- Network outages leading to loss of data
- Costs of replacing hardware and software
- Lawsuits and other legal costs
- Public relations (PR) costs
- Forensic analysis and investigation costs
In many cases, insurance companies will reject a school outright if they do not submit a detailed, comprehensive cybersecurity plan outlining their data security detection, response, and maintenance strategies.
Because cybersecurity risks and cyber threats continue to grow daily, even if an insurance provider decides to insure a school, the school may end up paying extremely high monthly premiums for their cyber insurance policy if they present a poor security plan. To lower premiums, schools will need to revise and upgrade their existing security controls to meet the standards of the insurance carriers.
NOTE: Cybersecurity insurance doesn’t prevent cyber attacks -- it only helps relieve some of the damage done through monetary compensation. Insurance should be viewed as a backup plan, should a successful cyber attack occur, and not the only plan. A strong cybersecurity infrastructure should always remain the top priority when building a defense strategy.
What Factors Affect Insurance Premiums?
Like any other type of insurance, cyber insurance companies are looking for policyholders with the lowest risk profile to add to their portfolios. Schools with the lowest risk end up paying the lowest premiums. In order to demonstrate a minimal risk to the providers and keep their cyber insurance costs as low as possible, schools must build strong, comprehensive cybersecurity programs.
There are many factors that may impact how insurance providers and underwriters assess cybersecurity risk:
- Regulatory compliance
- School size
- Data sensitivity
- Third-party and vendor risks
- Replacement costs
- Overall security hygiene
- Business interruption costs
- Media exposure
7 Ways to Lower Cyber Insurance Premiums in the Education Industry
Here are six ways schools can start implementing better security practices to lower their insurance premiums and deductibles:
1. Perform a Cyber Risk Assessment
Cybersecurity risk assessments help organizations better understand their vulnerabilities, identify all potential attack vectors, and build stronger overall security awareness. Risk assessments are a critical part of information security and risk management because they allow schools to manage and control their potential risks, providing insight on areas for improvement to boost their security posture.
A risk assessment also helps organizations classify their data by importance so they can place better safeguards around highly sensitive data and other personally identifiable information (PII). Ideally, schools should perform a cyber risk assessment annually to identify new vulnerabilities and threat vectors from the changing threat landscape and demonstrate their commitment to cybersecurity to insurance companies.
For new or smaller schools, a risk assessment is also an excellent opportunity to begin the implementation of a cybersecurity framework, which sets cybersecurity best practices by adhering to specific guidelines.
2. Perform Security Tests & Audits Regularly
It’s important to test your school’s security systems regularly to ensure it’s equipped to defend against the latest cyber threats. By testing the security of your network infrastructure, you can also verify that the technology your school is using is the most up-to-date. There are a few ways to accomplish this:
- Penetration testing - Penetration tests simulate a cyber attack against the school’s servers, firewalls, and applications. A strong infrastructure will successfully defend against all attacks, and a failed defense will immediately identify zero-day vulnerabilities to secure immediately.
- Security Audits - Security audits provide a structured process for reviewing all software and infrastructure against the industry-defined standards. Auditors often review the complete security framework, along with the current security processes and practices.
- Testing zero-trust architecture (ZTA) - A zero-trust model restricts data access to anyone outside of the network perimeter by assuming all parties cannot be trusted until verified. Authorized users must prove their identity through authentication processes. Schools can protect their network by limiting lateral movement with a zero-trust model.
- Traffic monitoring - There should always be a dedicated IT specialist or team to monitor network traffic. In some cases, hackers can infiltrate a network undetected if traffic is not consistently monitored and audited. A network audit can also determine endpoint security and policies for personal devices connected to the main network.
3. Secure Remote Access Endpoints
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, many schools, particularly in higher education, have adopted remote learning policies. However, millions of endpoints use personal devices, creating endless entry points for cybercriminals to gain unauthorized access to school networks and servers.
One hacked computer could potentially lead to devastating damages to an entire network. Having a remote access plan in place can help the overall defense strategy look much stronger to insurance providers.
There are a few solutions to better secure remote access points:
- Use VPNs - Virtual private networks (VPNs) are easy to set up and are designed to extend the school’s network security to any device that connects to it. With specific log-in information provided to the students, it creates an extra level of security, even for students using public Wi-Fi networks.
- Install firewalls and antivirus protection - Schools can also provide firewall and antivirus software to students to further protect them against threat actors. Firewalls help filter all inbound and outbound traffic based on the organization’s established policies. Antivirus is the first line of protection to detect and remove any malware that has infected the system.
- Verify all users - Authentication processes like two-factor (2FA) or multifactor authentication (MFA) are one of the easiest ways to stop threat actors from gaining access to the network. Tools like third-party authentication apps, biometric scanning, and email or text confirmations can help schools verify remote user access.
- Implement endpoint protection solutions - Endpoint detection and response (EDR) technology can help monitor endpoint activity, detect threats, provide real-time security alerts, and respond to threats.
4. Provide Security Training
Cybersecurity training should be the first step schools take to build out a strong security protocol. The leading cause of successful cyber attacks is typically the result of human error. Failing to recognize phishing attempts, losing account information, creating weak passwords, or not installing antivirus software are all examples of how users can easily become compromised.
Instead, schools should mandate basic cybersecurity education for all staff, employees, and students to:
- Ensure web browsing practices
- Identify potential phishing attacks
- Connect to secure Wi-Fi networks
- Keep all software and applications updated
- Create secure passwords
5. Create an Incident Response Plan
One of the main things insurance providers will look at is every school’s incident response plan. An incident response plan details the exact instructions to follow should a cyber attack successfully infiltrate the network. The plan is designed to mitigate the damage in the event of an attack so that minimal data is lost.
Every university or school district should ideally have multiple response plans to deal with the many types of attack vectors, including:
6. Implement Data Backup & Recovery Solutions
Good information security practices should include some form of data backup and recovery solutions. If data is stolen, corrupted, or blocked, the school needs to immediately follow the proper controls to restore the data from several backup solutions.
Ideally, data should be backed up once a day using the 3-2-1 backup strategy, to limit the potential amount of data loss. This strategy states that 3 copies of the data should be backed up to 2 different storage types (cloud, third-party storage, external devices, or external servers), and keeping 1 copy offline.
If an attack occurs, the organization can simply wipe the servers clean and restore the data directly from one of the storage types. Data backups can also be organized by order of most important to least important, with additional offline copies.
7. Prepare for Tough Underwriting
Underwriters have a responsibility to gain the full picture of a school’s security capabilities in order to accurately assess the entire risk profile and determine insurance premium payments. During the policy purchasing or renewal period, IT teams should expect detailed questions about their security policies, software tools used, roles of each member in the IT team, reporting policies, and more.
Some factors they are looking for are:
- Maturity of the security program
- Data security management policies
- Endpoint protection solutions
- Network segmentation implementation
- Authentication processes
- Cybersecurity frameworks
- Third-party risk management
- Auditing policies
- Dedicated IT team, including a CISO or CIO
- Data classification
- Cybersecurity budget
- Data encryption practices
Lower Your Cyber Insurance Premium with UpGuard
UpGuard can help you identify and address your school’s security risks with our industry-leading platform with key features including data leak detection, attack surface management, instant security ratings, and vendor risk management.
Improve your overall cybersecurity posture by addressing any vulnerabilities and attack vectors proactively. Use the UpGuard platform to generate high-level reports to help you gain a better understanding of your organization’s security strength.