Ransomware can cause mass disruption for schools. We’ve seen this recently, where a Taranaki high school found their server crippled by a ransomware attack. They lost access to some important files and went offline for days.

Once ransomware infects a device, the virus can quickly spread to other devices connected to the network. It can get into your computer in the same way that malware or a virus does. It’s often spread by visiting unsafe websites, or by clicking on links or opening email attachments.

We thought you’d like to know how N4L’s newly added security services are helping to protect schools against ransomware and other common online threats, like phishing scams. These tools are currently optional and free to use for all schools connected to the Managed Network.

The school hit by ransomware in Taranaki had opted out of these free services and was using an alternative commercial provider.

So how are schools protected?

Earlier this year, we added an extra layer of protection to all schools using our internet filtering. For the technically-minded, this additional ‘layer’ is a dedicated DNS filtering solution provided by a global cloud security company called Akamai.

We’re using their “Enterprise Threat Protector” to proactively block access to inappropriate content such as malware, and to sites that drop ransomware onto your network or device. It prevents phishing scams, “command and control” attacks, and anonymisers (otherwise known as VPNs). And also allows us to enforce SafeSearch for schools, which aligns with the safe search categories used by Google and Bing.

Prior to adding this layer, we contacted every school that had previously opted out of our internet filtering to ask if they’d like to opt in to the DNS filtering. Some, including the school in Taranaki, have opted out.

How will the Managed Network Upgrade help stop ransomware attacks?

All schools currently have access to our firewall and filtering tools to create safe online environments for their students. The Managed Network Upgrade improves these tools for schools, making them easier to modify to suit the needs of individuals or student groups. Over the next 12 months, the reporting will get even smarter, allowing you to better understand how your students are using the internet.

Schools will benefit from the above DNS service plus a combined firewall and internet filtering solution provided by our key technology partners helping us with the upgrade: Spark and Fortinet.

The former helps us build and refine the Managed Network and is involved with the rollout of Fortinet security devices to all participating schools. Their combined firewall and internet filtering solution (FortiGate) will help prevent ransomware from wreaking havoc on your school networks.

The Fortinet solution uses a variety of methods to prevent students from downloading malware that can infect their school’s network. It also blocks communications to the hackers’ central control systems if something does get infected – which prevents the infected machine from pulling down the “key” that maliciously encrypts the infected machine and locks the data.

In summary, the upgraded Managed Network will help keep the bad stuff out of your school’s network and also provides another layer of advanced protection in the event something manages to get through.

However, it’s important to remember that technology on its own will not protect schools from ransomware.

Robust technology will certainly help, but it must be accompanied with continuous education and awareness of good digital citizenship, provided to schools via Netsafe and CERT.

While we don’t know if our new or existing security services would have prevented the Taranaki ransomware incident, we do know that there are some strong benefits to using the free tools that come with your Managed Network connection and we strongly encourage you use them.


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