Don’t think that cybersecurity is something that only large companies or their IT teams have to worry about. Today, everybody is a target—and K-12 school districts are no exception.
After all, it’s no secret that school districts handle the personally identifiable information (PII) of parents, students, and staff every day. It’s also one of the main reasons why the frequency of cyberattacks against the education sector continues to increase—leaving many school districts struggling to keep up.
So, what can school districts do to ensure that sensitive data stays secure and private?
Now that more schools are going digital to streamline productivity, the need to pay attention to threats is becoming more urgent. It’s also important to have the right security practices in place to ensure a seamless experience for everyone involved.
In this post, we’ll go over some actionable tips and security practices you can follow to improve your cybersecurity posture.
Understanding the Gravity of the Problem
Many K-12 schools are confident in their abilities to handle digital attacks. However, 84% of school districts believe cybersecurity isn’t a significant risk, and just as many don’t prepare for phishing attacks despite how common they are against the education sector.
The Ed Tech Leadership Survey Report has verified that, in addition to not having a dedicated cybersecurity staff member, many school districts merely outsource the work either to other staff members or third-parties. A few K-12 organizations only deal with issues after they occur instead of preparing for them.
Cybersecurity training is also lacking, as many schools do not provide instruction to staff members on best practices and recovery methods. This informal approach is putting the personal data of parents, teachers, and students at risk.
How Can You Improve Your Cybersecurity Posture?
Adopting the right cybersecurity practices is the best course of action for K-12 organizations now that attacks are rising in frequency.
Here are a few actionable suggestions you can implement to improve your school district’s approach to cybersecurity.
1. Enforce Password Protection
We’ve all used passwords to protect our personal devices and online social networking accounts, but is this level of protection as secure as we hope? Weak passwords are a glaring issue for security teams of all industries because every staff member is expected to create one, even those not involved with cybersecurity.
K-12 districts will benefit from enforcing password protection policies. Not only can you advise passwords that are not easy to guess, but you can also encourage regular password rotations and 2-factor authentication, both of which are in use by only 63% and 29% of K-12 organizations respectively.
For an extra layer of security, have in place a password system that denies entry after a certain number of failed login attempts.
2. Raise Awareness Around Phishing Scams
Phishing occurs when a malicious third-party sends a fraudulent message to an organization in an attempt to trick someone inside into revealing sensitive information. Phishing messages can be identified by certain characteristics:
- Unusual senders: The rule of thumb is: if you don’t recognize the “from” line, don’t bother opening the message. In a K-12 setting, the majority of messages you receive should be from administrators, teachers, and parents.
- An urgent tone: While legitimate emails can sometimes come with an urgent tone, phishing tries to exploit this sense of urgency. If you receive a message that threatens to close your account if you fail to meet some close deadline, it should set off some alarms in your head. Contact your administrators to check the legitimacy before responding.
- Suspicious hyperlinks: Mouse over any links in the email. The destination might be from an unrecognized domain, the attacker’s own website that will trick users into entering in login information and passwords.
- Unwelcome attachments: Emails are a prime target for attaching ransomware, malware, and other viruses. Don’t open anything unless you’re sure it’s from a trustworthy source.
Phishing attacks are among the most common yet most preventable incidents in the education sector. Through proper IT training, schools can teach staff members to recognize phishing schemes and social engineering tactics used by cybercriminals.
3. Implement End-to-End Encryption
Only 43% of K-12 districts use encryption, and even fewer use more complex versions of it. End-to-end encryption has been pushed as the solution to digital vulnerabilities in schools in combination with smart judgement from administrators.
Encryption ensures that data in transit is always protected without compromising on productivity. You don’t want teachers complaining about workflow disruptions after all.
Other solutions, like the one adopted by a school district in Texas, include storing sensitive data and services in a secure private cloud and using self-encrypting drives for private storage.
4. Make Digital Security Part of Your School Culture
Because of the nature of cybersecurity, everyone is partially responsible for protecting the school’s data, even those outside of technical positions. Making security part of the overall culture is the key to protecting your data and that of parents, teachers, and administrators.
Only a fifth of K-12 schools bother creating a dedicated cybersecurity team, and just as many include the field as a line-item in the budget. Also, only 4 out of 10 school districts have formal digital security plans in place. Buck the trend of apathy towards cybersecurity by encouraging more staff members to work securely.
5. Adopt Cybersecurity Software
One positive point to note is that the majority of schools (63%) use software for cybersecurity purposes. These applications allow administrators to clearly define user permissions and detect suspicious behavior like unexpected login locations. In case one user account is hacked, the amount of damage that can be done is minimal.
These types of software solutions also offer auditing features, which 41% of school districts claim to use regularly.
6. Obtain Cybersecurity Insurance
The number of schools opting for cybersecurity insurance has risen heavily in the past year. The cost of receiving such coverage is rising in the education market though, and many vendors require that their clients adopt cybersecurity practices of their own before receiving proper coverage.
Remember to keep track of the measures your K-12 district is taking. Insurance can help but cannot act on its own.
What Edsembli Is Doing To Help
Edsembli has always been by education for education. It’s our mission to give educators, administrators, and students the tools they need to thrive in our hyperconnected world. We understand the unique needs and challenges of K-12.
We’ve built a powerful education management ecosystem that simplifies everything from staff hiring to financial tracking and student management — all integrated and backed with end-to-end encryption and a strong cybersecurity foundation.
Are you interested in learning more about how we protect the personal identifiable information of all students, parents, and staff? Get in touch with us today to learn more.