Education has become a prime target for distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks as more schools rely on distance learning to stop the spread of COVID-19. Researchers also report a rise in phishing pages and emails, as well as threats disguised as online learning platforms and apps.
The Kaspersky research team analyzed and compared DDoS attacks that affected educational resources out of the total number of DDoS attacks registered by its DDoS Intelligence System for the first quarter of 2019 and the first quarter of 2020. They discovered that the number of DDoS attacks affecting education grew by 550% in January 2020 compared with January 2019.
And the trend didn't stop there: For each month from February to June, the number of DDoS attacks affecting educational resources was 350% to 500% greater in 2020 compared with the same month in 2019. DDoS attacks have increased overall in the first quarter of this year, the researchers report, a trend that can be largely attributed to more attacks on e-learning services.
Between January and June 2020, the number of unique users who faced threats disguised as popular online learning platforms or videoconferencing apps reached 168,550. Researchers combed threat data for malicious activity containing the names of popular learning platforms and applications such as Moodle, a common learning management system (LMS), as well as Blackboard, Zoom, Google Classroom, Cousera, edX, and Google Meet.
They weren't surprised to see phishing attacks increase as schools adopted distance learning models. Phishing websites for popular platforms Google Classroom and Zoom began to appear as the pandemic continued; some pages were registered for Microsoft Teams and Google Meet. People who land on these may be tricked into clicking malicious links or entering credentials.
It's common to see criminals send phishing emails related to learning platforms. Attackers will tell users they had missed a meeting, class was canceled, or they had to activate an account. Sometimes they'll redirect to a malicious website where victims are prompted to download an application but end up with malware or adware on their machine. The most popular platform lure in 2020 was Zoom, with 167,657 of threats disguised as coming from the video platform.
For many cybercriminals targeting the educational sector, account access is only the first step. They can use those credentials to launch spam or phishing attacks, or gain access to other accounts belonging to the same individual, if that person reuses passwords across accounts. Many universities have their own platforms for students and faculty to access academic resources; cybercriminals have been seen creating phishing pages tailored to specific schools.