July 13, 2023

What is the Future of DDoS Within Higher Education and K-12 Districts?


The future of DDoS attacks has become purpose-built against a specific just-in-time attack surface or target, including the education sector, a foreign bank, a regional hospital, or a political figure traveling the globe. DDoS incidents continue to be part of a much broader campaign combined with other attack vectors. Education continues to become a growing vertical segment affected by DDoS attacks, especially online learning, cloud application, and every element of the school network.

This article discusses the complexity and risk of a DDoS embedded with a kill chain attack against higher education and K-12 school system and what steps school administrators can take to mitigate these attacks.

Can a DDoS attack be prevented against school operations, or will DDoS kill chains cause more reputational damage?

Surging DDoS Attacks Threats Against Higher Education and K-12

DDoS threat actors use new and old cybersecurity attacks to go after victims, such as ransomware and malware. They're becoming more sophisticated, sneaky, and aggressive, including integrating targeted DDoS into their kill chain strategy. The Education IT teams and the education community often need more resources and budget to handle large-scale DDoS and ransomware attacks.


Cybercriminals use volumetric DDoS attacks to overwhelm university and K-12 education systems with malicious traffic, causing their systems to crash and disrupt services. Schools struggle even to block a single attacker requiring assistance from their technology partners. DDoS attacks become executed as possible revenge attempting to slow down the institution’s IT resources to their students and professors or as a distraction for additional cyber attacks.


In the K-12 space, schools continue to report a rise in insider threats from students launching DDoS against the school systems. Using easy-to-access DoS from the Dark web, students use these tools to take out systems during critical times during the academic year.


This trend continues across several school districts in the United States and worldwide.


What is the Impact of Embedded DDoS Attacks on Education Systems?

Universities possess large databases containing the personal information of students, staff, providers, and vendors, valuable data such as contact details, and sensitive data like medical records. In a security breach, criminals can exploit or take data traffic to extort individuals or the entire institution.


Many school and university systems do not realize they are or were a victim of a DDoS. Most attacks go unnoticed or become written off as a network down or an issue with the Internet service provider.


DDoS and ransomware combined attacks can cause an institution to shut down for an extended period. The negative impact on reputation can have long-term business consequences for learning institutions, including reduced enrollment and loss of funding.


Colleges and universities experience specific challenges when rebounding from DDoS attacks and have the slowest recovery times compared to other sectors.


Embedding DDoS Into the Kill Chain

Hackers continue to develop kill chain partnerships by merging several individual attack methods and malicious actors into a unified cyber attack strategy, including extending DDoS attacks across several areas within the chain. 

These key contributors to the chain include:

  • Reconnaissance - Scanning IP addresses and known Ports (DDoS against discovered ports and protocols)
    Malware - Payload, malicious content, account takeover, exploitation
    Ransomware - Data hijacking, financial gain, notoriety, and diversion
    Brute Force Attack - Weaponization (DDoS Attack against identity management systems)
    Social Engineering - Exploitation, victim identification, and delivery
    Email Phishing - Delivery, exploit, weaponization.
    Weaponization - Malware, malicious URLs, ransomware, DDoS
    Delivery - Email phishing attacks, including spear phishing, continue to be the hacker's preferred malware delivery.

The results include devastating DDoS/ ransomware chain attacks against educational institutions like the University of California, the University of Utah, and Queensland University. 

The future of DDoS continues to spiral toward becoming even more of a player within the attack kill chain.

  • Botnets are a series of devices, servers, and laptops infected by malware for hackers remotely connect and launch attacks internally or externally.

    Botnets have become used to conduct DDoS attacks against networks and internet services. These botnets can generate traffic from systems worldwide by using internally affected hosts or zombies.

    MIRTE.Org reported recently, “Threat actors and cybercriminals will build and control their own botnet infrastructure or rent time on an existing botnet for an attack.” 

    DDoS attacks from botnets can be so severe that each system only needs to send a small amount of traffic to overwhelm the denial of service target. In these cases, telling legitimate client traffic from DDoS traffic is challenging.

Future of School Cybersecurity and Its Digital Infrastructure Services

Schools host many valuable information assets, including student records, financial records, and parent information.

The versatility of DDoS extends additional capabilities to hackers. Leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning, hackers can adjust their DDoS attack vectors across attributes within the kill chain based on learning data within the AI engines.

These multi-threaded hacking attacks were successful against K-12 educational institutions, including the Los Angeles Unified School District and the Fairfax County School District—the two largest K-12 institutions in the United States. DDoS's growing participation as a killer chain partner will continue to impact K-12 schools' cybersecurity and infrastructure support teams with limited resources to handle these cyber incidents.

Schools are looking into cyber risk strategies, including deploying a mitigation platform to ensure protective access to programs, better application security, and protective access to school data. Many educational institutions, including universities, K-12, and private, continue adopting DDoS protection and mitigation. DDoS protection becomes embedded with other security strategies, including unified threat management, to reduce the risk and impact of these attacks.


Collaborating with Higher Education and Government to Disrupt the DDoS kill chain: The Nexusguard Way

Nexusguard's global DDoS protection capabilities and integration into several security operations tools provide a comprehensive strategy for education school districts, higher education, and governments come to rely on. Nexusguard's proven approach extends mitigation and visibility across several networks, departments, resources, and systems to help protect the school's data and infrastructure from future attacks.

School systems enabling Application Protection (AP), Origin Protection (OP), and DNS Protection (DP) will be able to safeguard public-facing websites, mobile applications, APIs, infrastructure, backend, and DNS servers from all types and complexities of DDoS attacks.

By correctly implementing DDoS strategies, colleges, universities, professional schools, and K-12 school districts can significantly decrease the impact of DDoS attacks on their digital networks. Educational institutions that deployed DDoS protection to defend their online infrastructure by utilizing effective mitigation measures have experienced significantly fewer issues from DDoS and other attacks since.


Company Culture

Nexusguard has over a decade of experience in DDoS attack detection, mitigation, and analysis. We build our strategy for success from the ground up on a solid foundation of people, processes, and technology. Organic growth is critical to our success. Our comprehensive product portfolio combines the features and benefits of on-premise, private, and global cloud to protect against attacks.

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