Protecting Critical Student Data with Cybersecurity

Posted by Kelly Konya on May 10, 2019 1:09:56 PM
Kelly Konya

Safeguarding your critical assets and systems is important for every organization—especially for school districts, where student and staff data is particularly sensitive. Unfortunately, the sensitive nature of school data is one of the core reasons that districts are regularly targeted by cyber-criminals.

What’s more, school districts can face considerable risks without even realizing it, as information technology (IT) is rarely a top priority and cybersecurity is even further down the totem pole.

Since teachers, administrators, students and even some third-party vendors typically share information across a single expansive network, it is essential for districts to make cybersecurity a priority so that private data is never made available to hackers.

As your district begins to develop a thorough system for cybersecurity, it is important to understand the current educational landscape in IT and to then identify your assets.

Common Trends in K-12 Information Technology

Due to the fact that cybersecurity is not a priority in most school districts, networks are designed for ease of accessibility. Many schools rely on third parties for services and choose these parties based on the district’s available budget for information technology.

However, these commonalities spawn an array of threat agents, including:

  • Sophisticated and unsophisticated attackers
  • Predatory cyber-criminals
  • Insider criminals (malicious and non-malicious)

Recently, there have been several examples of school districts facing serious IT security incidents. One example was the ransomware attack that occurred in Jerome County, Idaho. The school district faced a six-week outage of their technology systems and network, resulting in significant expenses related to equipment. The attack could’ve been avoided if the district had implemented strong backup procedures, but unfortunately, the breach led to a permanent loss of data for the teachers, administrators and students.

This is one of many instances where school districts have been unprepared and faced a major loss of critical information. In fact, from the timeline of June 2016 to present, there have been over 422 incidents in U.S. schools alone—and the number increases every day. And while this reality is daunting, districts should recognize the options they have in integrating cybersecurity protocols that can reduce or eliminate their vulnerabilities.

Risk Identification Begins and Ends with Assets

When it comes to IT and cybersecurity, every decision your school district makes should be risk-based. Determining your risk for a cyber-attack begins with asset identification and classification.

Within your school district, ask yourself: What are the systems you already have in place related to…

  • staff information,
  • student information,
  • payment information, and
  • health information?

Once you identify your current assets, you can identify the potential gaps in your systems and move forward with the process of installing cybersecurity processes that are more robust.

What Else Can Your District Do?

As you begin to develop a plan for increased cybersecurity, school districts can engage in a series of activities to further safeguard their systems. Having a multi-layered approach to cybersecurity will help to mitigate the risk of an attack. Some of those layers may include:

  • Security policies and procedures (Acceptable Use Policy, Internet Access Policy, Network Security Policy, Remote Access Policy, etc.)
  • Staff education and training
  • Focusing on data loss prevention with technical controls
  • Device hardening and encryption

If your district is interested in discovering where your weaknesses are and how to fix them, SubRosa Cyber Solutions can assist schools with assessing risk and monitoring systems. To find out more about the ways SubRosa can effectively manage your district’s cybersecurity, contact us today.