The global pandemic has shifted an increasing amount of daily life online. People turn to their technology for a growing number of tasks including their jobs and their children’s education. With more people online, we have also seen a rise in cyberattacks. Criminals are attacking everything from virus testing centers to cars. Rather than just going after large businesses, as many assume, these attackers seek out any potentially vulnerable system to exploit.
Schools have become a popular target of cybercriminals, especially with so much focus on distance learning. Even outside the shift to online distance learning, school districts rely on digital capabilities with increasing frequency in the classroom.
When cybersecurity issues happen, they harm students’ learning and leave school systems footing a hefty bill.
The Newhall Cybersecurity Breach
This growing threat was highlighted locally with a Newhall elementary school cybersecurity attack in September. The incident halted distance learning for 6,000 students across 10 schools. Teachers had to scramble to create at-home paper-and-pencil activities to engage students in learning throughout the experience.
Newhall elementary schools are not the only district to face IT security problems. These breaches threaten sensitive information about employees and students, cost school districts thousands of dollars in unplanned expenses and cause tremendous disruptions to student learning. In a year when student learning has been all but derailed, these interruptions must be prevented.
Cybersecurity vulnerabilities threatening schools
For schools on the path toward a technologically integrated education, protecting themselves from common cybersecurity concerns with IT security services is critical.
More robust cybersecurity planning needed
School district IT departments often take care of some basic elements of cybersecurity but may not have a more sophisticated strategy to prevent, detect and remediate cyberthreats. As Diamond IT has worked with many school districts, we’ve found the most successful way to survive a cybersecurity attack is to have incident response plans that guide what to do before, during and after such an event.
Train teachers and students on cybersecurity
How many schools provide cybersecurity training for students and teachers? 35% of cyberattacks that happen come through an email inbox. In schools, where there are so many students and teachers, there is an enormous risk of people opening and clicking on email phishing attempts and infecting a network. Critical training can help those accessing school technology in preventing an incident.
Stay on top of patches
Schools might remember to update and maintain major software, like Microsoft, but we’ve found they often neglect other applications and programs in use. Unfortunately, cybercriminals regularly develop malware that seeks old software with outdated patches as a prime candidate to attack which increases the threat to your network. Ensure that all software applications are updated routinely. If you’re unable to manage this, then work with an IT security services company that will help you manage these patches.
Schools must restrict access to their systems
One of the most fundamental steps of cybersecurity in schools is using the rule of least privilege. With this best practice, people only have access to what they need to do their jobs. This minimizes the number of people with access to sensitive information and reduces the risk of a breach.
Similarly, schools often allow nearly any internet-connected device to access their network without creating a student-use network or otherwise safeguarding critically sensitive files and servers from thousands of unsecured devices. School districts need more regimented processes around the types of devices that can access their network and safer network design practices to keep those devices from being able to compromise their entire digital environment.
Protecting our schools
To safeguard schools, districts need to work with an IT security services provider who understands the needs of schools. This is particularly important for districts working to support both in-person and distance learning models.
Parents also need to get involved. They can encourage schools to improve their IT security and take preventative action. Everyone should work together to minimize sources of interference in our children’s learning environment.
In the digital age, cybercrime is an inevitable part of life, pandemic or no. School districts must take action to protect students, teachers and learning environments. Just as we emphasize student safety in nearly every other facet of their lives, schools also must ensure the safe availability of students’ technology in the classroom.
To learn how to better safeguard your school district against cyberthreats, contact Diamond IT.