The State of Cybersecurity in K-12 Education
During 2020, more than 400 known cyberattacks were launched against K-12 institutions across the US — a record-breaking jump of 18 percent over the previous year, and an average of two such attacks on every school day.
The switch to remote learning at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic accounted for much of this increase, but K-12 schools are particularly vulnerable to a variety of cyber threats, such as ransomware and data breaches, that steal a wealth of information about students, their families, and school faculty and staff.
The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA) urges K-12 institutions to review their existing security systems and take steps to strengthen them with measures such as patches, password protections, and unauthorized IP blocking.
School districts often lack the resources to put strong protections in place against a long and growing list of cyber threats. But dedicated specialists in internet technology can provide efficient and scalable solutions to keep schools safe from cyberattacks.
Unique Security Considerations for Schools
Schools have unique security considerations that render them particularly vulnerable to cyber events that put students and faculty at risk. Some of those risks are brought to light by “ethical hackers,” computer-savvy students who hack into their school’s IT systems and report the weak spots they find to the administration.
K-12 Cybersecurity By the Numbers
According to the FBI, K-12 schools are the most targeted sector for cyberattacks in the US. At least one cybersecurity attack has taken place in each of the contiguous 48 states, with more than 1,000 such incidents reported since 2016.
Hybrid and Remote Learning Environments
The COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to adopt fully remote or hybrid learning environments that require multiple new accounts and logins from home computers and other devices. “The shift to remote learning opens the door for different points of attack that most school districts weren’t set up to support,” says Amy McLaughlin, cybersecurity project director for the Consortium for School Networking, in an interview with EdTech Magazine. A ransomware attack in 2020 forced the Victor School District in Buffalo, New York to suspend online classes entirely while officials installed new safeguards.
Localized Data Management & Risky Assumptions
School IT systems often run on localized, outdated software that lacks state-of-the-art security features, so schools on limited budgets may not have the resources to upgrade security or find new solutions for keeping data safe in the digital age.
A recent assessment of cybersecurity risks in education noted that school districts often fail to recognize the urgency of improving IT security because they assume their data is of no interest to cyberattackers.
Prioritizing Security at Your Schools
Cyberattacks can strike any school at any time, so it is imperative that school districts make security a top priority at every level. That includes monitoring devices to limit inappropriate logins, managing passwords and permissions, and strengthening cloud security. To do that, school districts are turning to third-party cybersecurity specialists who can help schools find the solutions they need.
Pennsylvania’s Agora Cyber Charter School delivers K-12 classes almost entirely online — an environment with numerous security risks. And since 2017, Agora has been partnering with Forsyte I.T. Solutions to combat cyberattacks using Microsoft technologies. Michael Rublesky IIII, Agora’s Chief Technology Officer, says that in that time, the school “has seen a drop from more than 200 security-related support cases to nearly zero.”
Get Help with Forsyte I.T. Solutions
Forsyte I.T. Solutions was recently honored with Microsoft’s Partner in Education Award for 2021, acknowledging the company’s vast IT knowledge and expertise in the education industry. With a range of innovative technology solutions, Forsyte empowers K-12 schools and organizations of all kinds to implement security strategies that realize advanced innovation goals.
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