By Emily Newton, Editor-in-Chief at Revolutionized Magazine
K-12 cybersecurity is more important today than ever before. With cyber threats on the rise and education becoming increasingly digital, schools need to implement strong cybersecurity programs in order to protect students. Here’s an overview of the virtual threats schools are facing, the risks at hand, and the importance of K-12 cybersecurity for schools.
Rising K-12 Cybersecurity Threats
K-12 cybersecurity has been important ever since schools began regularly using computers and the internet. However, over recent years, cyber threats have risen significantly, particularly in relation to education.
The widespread shift to remote learning and digital education tools is driving a surge in cyber threats. In fact, in September 2022, the FBI issued a public advisory in response to increasing ransomware attempts targeting schools.
Hackers tend to choose targets that have a high reliance on digital systems or data coupled with weak security resources. Schools are a perfect fit for this description. If a school district’s network goes offline, the entire district is essentially shut down. Teachers lose access to PowerPoints and grades, students lose access to learning resources, and staff and administrators lose access to the critical systems that run the district.
To make matters worse, most schools in the U.S. are public schools that are working with minimal funding and limited cybersecurity resources. So, hackers know they will have an easy time breaking in, along with a target that is likely to cave to ransomware because its systems are mission-critical on a large scale. Ransomware is becoming more easily accessible to amateur hackers, as well, which will only worsen the situation.
Protecting Students’ Data
Schools are not prime targets for hackers just because they tend to have weaker digital security measures. Hackers know that school districts collect large amounts of personal information on students. If a hacker stole this data, it would cause panic among parents who would rightly fear that their child’s personal information is going to end up on the Dark Web.
Unfortunately, incidents like this have already happened. For instance, in one 2020 case, students’ personal information was found in a Dark Web forum after a Nevada school district refused to pay a cyberattack ransom. Hackers are not randomly targeting schools. It is a strategic move intended to endanger students’ data and privacy.
Remote education is only worsening this trend. An estimated 93% of households took part in distance learning in 2020. Since then, many schools have continued to implement hybrid learning and digital learning platforms. While remote learning can be incredibly valuable, it can also put students’ data at greater risk.
Strong K-12 cybersecurity programs are the only way to address these risks while also reaping the many benefits of technology in education. Cybersecurity for schools is vital for the future of education and for allowing students to thrive using digital learning tools. A strong cybersecurity strategy can protect students from accidentally landing on malicious websites while using school computers. Similarly, it could help prevent teachers from accidentally opening phishing emails.
Defending Against Internal Threats
It is also worth noting that some hacking attempts can come from within school districts. This is more likely to happen today than in previous decades because younger generations are digital natives. K-12 students today are intuitively familiar with technology. In fact, surveys have shown that Gen-Z students are overwhelmingly interested in careers in tech and software development.
This is generally a good thing. Unfortunately, it also means students today may be more likely to have the technical skills to hack their own school districts. These student hackers may be attempting to prank their school, tamper with grades or school records, or even launch a malicious cyberattack from the inside using their student login credentials. Dissatisfied teachers and staff are capable of the same behavior.
Strong K-12 cybersecurity programs can prevent these internal attacks and stop students from starting down a path in cybercrime. For instance, identity and access management tools can be used to implement a zero-trust approach to user access in school districts’ networks. Network segmentation could also be used to ensure that even a hacked account could not be used to get access to the entire district network.
Cybersecurity Awareness and Classes
Strong cybersecurity for schools goes beyond antivirus software and good password practices. Implementing cybersecurity awareness and training programs in schools can make a huge impact on digital safety and security. Students are so used to being online today that they may not even realize the level of danger that’s out there online. They also may not be aware of the easy best practices they can use to protect themselves and their devices.
Cybersecurity education doesn’t need to be difficult to develop, either. For instance, the U.S. government has a large library of school cybersecurity resources freely available online for educators to use. Local cybersecurity experts may also be willing to do school visits to train students and teachers alike in good security practices.
Plus, as mentioned above, students are highly excited about tech and computing careers today. There is huge demand for cybersecurity professionals at all levels today – a trend that is unlikely to diminish as technology advances. So, adding cybersecurity to school curriculums will not only strengthen security but also engage students in a booming tech career field.
Strengthening Cybersecurity for Schools
K-12 cybersecurity is about preventing little actions that open the floodgates for hackers. Schools need strong cybersecurity programs that combine security training and active digital defenses. With ransomware on the rise, schools are in increasing danger of becoming targets for hackers. However, by implementing adequate security measures, school districts can rest assured that their students’ data and privacy are protected to the highest possible standard.
Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief at Revolutionized Magazine. A regular contributor to Brilliance Security Magazine, she has over four years of experience writing articles in the industrial sector.