The UK government’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) issued an advisory for nurseries and childminders about the threat of cyber-attacks.
It is the first time that the government agency that is part of the Government Communications Headquarters or GCHQ intelligence service has given guidance to a childcare sector.
The NCSC reminds pre-school providers and childminders to use strong password protection for information for parents.
“We know that incidents affecting the education sector are increasingly common,” said Sarah Lyons of the NCSC.
Operators in this sector increasingly rely on technology and for this reason, have become easy targets for cyberattackers.
“Like most professions, the early-years sector is increasingly reliant on technology, and this new guidance will support them with protecting sensitive data,” said Vicky Ford, children and families minister.
In its advisory, the NCSC explains what malicious software is, and speaks of the need to protect personal information. The NCSC warns that cybercriminals can be after the personal information of children or families and their payment details.
“Cyber-criminals will go after anybody, provided there’s money to be made,” said the NCSC.
The cyber-security agency calls for password protection when sharing information like newsletters for parents.
“You should password protect newsletters so only families who have been given the password can open them,” says the guidance.
An important part of the NCSC’s warning is dedicated to scam emails. Scammers are “preying on fears of Covid-19” and nurseries and childminders must watch out for fake messages trying to obtain information with false claims about resetting passwords, receiving compensation, and missed deliveries.
Other warnings include protecting computer devices and smartphones against scammer phone calls and text messages.
Sarah Lyons, deputy director for economy and society engagement at the NCSC, warned it was “vital that all providers know how to secure their devices and sensitive data.”
Many people in the early-years education sector work without a dedicated IT team, and the NCSC says it is paramount that they “have robust cyber-security in place to help them communicate with children, families and staff delivering early education and childcare provision safely.”
This warning from the NCSC comes after a spike in attacks on UK’s educational institutions in recent months. The South and City College Birmingham has been forced to close its doors after a major ransomware attack, and students had to stay home this week.
Then there was a hack of NurseryCam, a webcam that lets parents watch their children while they are at nursery school.