AI and advanced analytics can proactively fight cybersecurity threats in schools. Here’s how.

By Fortinet

As the education sector increases its digital footprint, AI and machine learning algorithms help detect and fight threats across networks, endpoints and applications, says An Ping Kwee from Fortinet.

School IT systems are vulnerable to cyber attacks as they are essential services collecting large amounts of personal data. Image: Canva.

The rise of cyber attacks on educational institutions has led to temporary school closures and weeks of disruption in the US and the UK, as recently reported by NPR and BBC.

According to Fortinet’s Threat Landscape Report examining the cyberthreat landscape over the second half of 2023, the top three industries most susceptible to cyber threats are the financial services industry, followed by the business services and education.

Fortinet's Kwee tells us how Fortinet is using AI and advanced analytics to counter cyber threats. Image: Fortinet.

School IT systems are vulnerable to cyber attacks as they are essential services that collect large amounts of personal data about students and staff. In many cases, these attacks involve ransomware, where hackers threaten to leak data unless they are paid a ransom.

An Ping Kwee, SecOps Lead of cybersecurity solutions provider, Fortinet, says that with an increasing reliance on cloud-based services and digital learning platforms since the COVID-19 pandemic, the sector’s digital footprint has increased exponentially and this has exposed schools to a heighted risk of cyber attacks.

GovInsider sits down with Kwee to find out more about why Fortinet is advocating “fighting tech with tech” using AI and advanced analytics to counter cyber threats  and how the company is working alongside educational institutions to meet their unique cybersecurity needs.

Harnessing AI for proactive risk management

The use of AI, Generative AI and advanced analytics enables schools to discover suspicious activities more quickly and respond swiftly to both known and unknown vulnerabilities, says Kwee.

For example, FortiAI, a Gen AI-powered assistant built into Fortinet’s cybersecurity platforms, helps school personnel without deep cybersecurity expertise to rapidly understand and expedite the incident response and recovery process.

Introducing FortiAI | GenAI. Video: Fortinet.

As threats become increasingly sophisticated and difficult to identify, Kwee points to three key components of Fortinet SecOps Platform that allow schools to proactively tackle the evolving cyberthreat landscape:

  1. Integrated solution to secure multiple sources  – such as network, endpoint, application and cloud;
  2. AI that helps detect advanced threats and powers the investigation process; and
  3. Automation for a speedy, comprehensive, and coordinated response that will ease the burden on in-house security teams.

“The outcome is a closed-loop approach to automate the incident response process, from detection to containment and remediation.

“This enables security teams in the education sector to respond quickly and efficiently to threats, reducing the time it takes to detect and mitigate attacks,” he summarises the impact on schools.

Additionally, Fortinet’s solutions are overlayed with the Fortinet Security Fabric, which allows users to tap on threat intelligence from their global network of sensors and security operations centres and “stay up to date on the latest threats and active threats,” Kwee adds.

Meeting unique needs of educational institutions

Fortinet SecOps platform was designed to be vendor-agnostic and integrates with the cybersecurity infrastructure without disrupting the IT systems used by schools, says Kwee.

“Our SecOps platform even extends and amplifies educational institutions’ investments in these technologies by enriching their cybersecurity telemetry,” he explains. In other words, schools can get more cybersecurity data points with the platform.

This additional level of threat intelligence equips schools with the information to understand and respond to a wider range of cyber incidents.

According to Kwee, a study conducted by market research firm, Enterprise Strategy Group, has shown that Fortinet SecOps platform managed to reduce the mean-time-to-detect and respond from weeks to hours.

Fortinet also has a training institution that provides free cybersecurity training in the education sector to help build capacities in schools and tackle advanced cybersecurity incidents, says Kwee.

This includes a free curriculum to support staff in learning about security-driven networking, adaptive cloud security, AI-driven security operations, and zero-trust network access, he adds.

For example, Temple College from Texas, US, initially engaged with Fortinet for only its firewall security solutions.

Later, the college expanded its partnership with Fortinet to address the educational institute’s entire cybersecurity needs across multiple campuses, and deepened the partnership with the Fortinet Training Institute to provide cybersecurity courses for students.

“Fortinet understands the importance of enabling a collaborative and secure academic environment and has built strong partnerships across the global educational community,” says Kwee.

To find out more about embracing security operations in the education sector, download Fortinet’s whitepaper and discover how you can achieve a balance between people, processes, and tools for your institution.