Student safety is a top priority in any school, but now that the very definition of traditional learning environments has changed so dramatically, school officials and teachers have a whole new set of security issues to address.

Hybrid learning strategies and virtual instruction essentially extend school walls to the far corners of district borders. When students’ kitchens and living rooms become classrooms, fending off cyber threats becomes nearly as critical as fighting the virus that made “remote learning” such a common term in the first place.

Consider this: The going rate on the black market for personal student data is $350 – $400 per record.

Student safetyThat begins to paint the picture of how desirable student data is and how critical cyber security is for school systems. One of the biggest threats today comes in the form of ransomware – an illegal hijacking of your system’s data that can only be freed through ransom paid in bitcoin or a similar untraceable cyber payment.

Perhaps even more valuable than student data, however, is the potential for access to your school district’s servers, and the ability for bad actors to conduct hacking activities, such as cryptomining or denial-of-service (DOS) attacks using your computing power and machines. The evil deeds are carried out with the added bonus of being cloaked by your IP address.

As the bad guys push the limits, it’s more important than ever to establish shrewd security protocols to protect all your stakeholders – from the students to the teachers to the administrators — without limiting access.

5 Steps To Help Protect Your School District from Online Security Breaches

Protection & Detection – Most schools already have strong virus protection in place, but as you expand access and availability, it may be time to take it up a notch. Monitor devices with endpoint security software so you can prevent breaches from personal devices that are often used on public cloud systems and exposed to a range of malware.

Mobile Device Management – Prevent the spread of toxic communications with careful infrastructure planning that includes endpoint segmentation and micro-virtualization. This intent-based approach allows educational institutions to provide functionality when and where it’s needed, directly to the endpoint without exposing the rest of the system.

Limit Administrative Access – It’s rare that teachers or even school administrators should need high level technical access. Find ways to provide access to the information and applications your stakeholders need without compromising network administrative security. This can also prevent another common problem with regard to data security in schools – a breach due to accidental actions by someone with legitimate clearance.

Be Proactive with Your Communication Plan – Reminding people once a year is not sufficient. When serious repercussions can come from simply clicking on a link from a phishing email or social media lure, it’s important to make security part of your culture and train people on how to spot suspicious communications. [Check out our article on personal device security for students and teachers.]

Vigilance Pays – Make sure you’re continually checking firewalls and system protections. When software patches are made available, move quickly to implement them. Take special care with regard to file backup planning to help ensure business continuity while preventing a hack.

Modern Protocols – Make sure you’re following the latest best practices. For example, you can further reduce endpoint vulnerabilities with device-oriented security standards, such as two-factor authentication.

Many Schools are Failing when it Comes to a Secure Network

While all of the action steps above may seem like a bare minimum in today’s highly hackable world, the reality is that the education industry regularly receives low test scores when it comes to cyber security.

Closing the digital divide is critical, but it must start with strong protections to prevent student data breaches. Here’s how to find out more about creating a fundamental cyber security framework from the US Department of Homeland Security.

Sources:  https://edtechmagazine.com/k12/article/2018/12/3-ways-k-12-schools-can-improve-their-cybersecurity-2019, https://edtechmagazine.com/k12/media/video/new-threats-loom-k-12-it-admins-must-adapt-security-strategies, https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2019/05/01/qa-how-to-bolster-cybersecurity-in-your.html, https://www.us-cert.gov/resources/cybersecurity-framework, https://rems.ed.gov/docs/Cybersecurity_K-12_Fact_Sheet_508C.PDF, https://www.staugustine.com/news/20190705/local-hacking-concerns-spike-after-string-of-attacks-on-small-florida-cities, 
https://www.eschoolnews.com/2017/11/29/cybersecurity-threats-schools/, https://www.cnbc.com/2018/08/22/how-much-hackers-get-for-social-security-numbers-on-the-black-market.html, https://edtechmagazine.com/higher/article/2017/10/mobile-management-solutions-keep-data-safe-campu

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