In our fast-paced, technology-driven world, K-12 schools face a new threat: cyber attacks. These malicious acts, such as malware, DDoS, and ransomware attacks, pose serious challenges for the IT directors tasked with protecting the schools' valuable data and infrastructure. The risks become even more pronounced as educational institutions increasingly integrate technology into their classrooms. This article delves into the complex K-12 challenges that IT directors and their teams face, shedding light on their worries and emphasizing the crucial need for strong security measures.
Over the past year, our team at Prey has been actively collaborating with K-12 schools and other educational institutions, immersing ourselves in their world to understand their security and device management challenges better. Through this close partnership, we have had the opportunity to listen and learn about the multitude of issues they encounter on a daily basis within their institutions.
These current issues in k-12 education today can create a constant sense of unease for IT directors, causing sleepless nights as they grapple with the potential threats that lurk in the shadows. The cybersecurity industry thrives on this heightened state of caution, but it is undoubtedly wiser to proactively fortify defenses rather than assuming everything will go smoothly. By taking preventive action, IT directors can mitigate risks and be prepared for any potential challenges.
IT Teams pain points
The conversations between Prey, and our education customers echo the concerns uncovered in the (CoSN) 2023 State of EdTech Leadership survey. Our customers call out the following issues in their daily work:
Limited resources – IT managers must optimize limited financial resources to cover buying and maintaining equipment, software licenses, security software, collaboration tools, and network maintenance. Understaffing is also another constraint for IT teams; it can lead to disruptions in technology operations, which can negatively impact the school day to day operations.
Diverse IT Infrastructure – Schools often have diverse IT environments with a variety of devices, operating systems, software applications, and network configurations. This diversity can make it challenging to keep track of all the different risks across the entire IT ecosystem.
Device Fleet Management – Managers need to ensure the smooth operation, security, and correct usage of students’ devices. They need to know the number of devices protected, their current status, and their proper configuration as dictated by profiles and security policies.
Data Protection and Compliance – Schools must comply with various data protection regulations to ensure student privacy which means conducting regular risk assessments that address privacy, data collection, erasure, and storage.
Limited Security Awareness – Keeping a secure environment requires educating and engaging all stakeholders to ensure they understand their roles and responsibilities in maintaining a secure environment.
Insecure Internet – The entire educational community – students, parents, teachers, administrators – share their data over the Internet on both secure and insecure sites. IT managers must ensure that everyone is accessing appropriate and safe content on the internet.
The main K-12 security challenges
According to the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) 2023 State of EdTech Leadership, the top three priorities for K-12 education EdTech leaders are:
- Network Infrastructure
- Data Privacy & Security
In February 2018, the K-12 Cybersecurity Resource Center released, The State of K-12 Cybersecurity: Year in Review, a first-of-its-kind report on cyber incidents affecting U.S. public elementary and secondary (K-12) education institutions. This report also confirmed that as schools increasingly rely on learning technology, they are experiencing a rise in cyber risks.
In fact, the report finds that the most frequent forms of attack in the K-12 environment were phishing, ransomware, and malware incidents, which led to data breach incidents. In more than 60 percent of those attacks, student data was leaked.
In the world of K-12 education, cybersecurity is a pressing concern as it brings along challenges that demand our attention. We must create a safe and secure digital environment for our students and staff, where their information is protected from cyber threats.
As schools increasingly rely on digital systems and store sensitive student and staff data, shielding against cyber threats becomes paramount. Shockingly, only a third of districts have dedicated personnel to handle network security, while others distribute the responsibility among various roles, putting educational institutions at risk.
Furthermore, budget constraints present another hurdle. Many districts need help to allocate sufficient funds to bolster their cybersecurity defenses. It is disconcerting that 12% of districts report zero budget allocation for this critical protection aspect.
However, there is some good news amidst these challenges. There is a positive trend emerging in the realm of cybersecurity practices in school districts. Year after year, more districts are adopting measures to enhance their cybersecurity defenses, like training programs, with IT staff training being the most common practice, now at an impressive 76% compared to 65% last year.
One significant leap has been using two-factor authentication, which has increased by more than 20%. This surge is likely driven by insurance requirements, as multi-factor authentication has become a minimum necessity for obtaining cyber coverage.
Adopting cybersecurity practices signifies a growing commitment to bolstering cybersecurity practices in school districts and fostering a safer digital environment for students, staff, and the entire educational community.
Network infrastructure in K-12 education faces a range of challenges that impact its scalability, bandwidth, security, management, and budget considerations.
One of the main challenges is accommodating the large number of students, faculty, and staff who rely on the network simultaneously. As technology integration increases and more devices connect, there is a growing need for the network infrastructure to handle the increasing volume of data and provide reliable connectivity to support various educational activities; that's why bandwidth is crucial in today's digital learning environment for an effective and uninterrupted learning experience.
The security and protection of sensitive student and staff data are of utmost importance in K-12 education. The network infrastructure is critical in safeguarding this data from unauthorized access and cyber threats. To achieve this, it is vital to implement security measures such as firewalls, encryption protocols, and access controls, which act as powerful shields, preventing data breaches and unauthorized intrusions.
IT departments in K-12 schools also face the challenge of managing the network infrastructure. This task involves a range of responsibilities, such as continuously monitoring network performance, troubleshooting connectivity issues, and maintaining proper network configuration. IT teams are responsible for managing various components like network switches, routers, and access points to ensure the smooth and uninterrupted operation of the network. This process is essential to minimize disruptions and provide a seamless digital experience.
Data privacy and security
Protecting students' privacy and data security is more crucial than ever in education, and K-12 IT leaders must understand the law requirements to protect student data privacy effectively and comply with the law.
As schools increasingly transition their operations to the cloud and face growing threats from malicious actors, federal laws like the Family Education Rights & Privacy Act (FERPA), the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), and the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) were created to protect student privacy and uphold data security.
One of the hurdles many districts face is effectively managing software and data privacy agreements. Surprisingly, a significant percentage of districts still rely on standalone tools or spreadsheets, while others don't use any software. Considering the many apps used in each school district, manual management becomes inefficient and prone to errors. Furthermore, inefficient management may lead to overspending on licenses and unnecessarily strain network resources and budgets.
How can we help? Prey for education
As a result of these conversations, we released Prey for Education, aiming to help our users in Education to begin to address some of these complications better and grow toward their needs in the future.
Prey is here to empower and support IT administrators in the education sector's journey toward a secure and efficient digital environment. We strive to be your trusted ally, providing a cost-effective, flexible, and optimized tool for managing device fleets.
With Prey, you can take control of your IT device fleet and protect them from potential threats helping you to stay ahead of the curve.
We closely monitor schools' evolving challenges to better understand your needs, building a safer digital learning environment so you can confidently navigate the complexities of IT administration, enhance security measures, and optimize your resources.
What does Prey for Education address:
- Automated device security and management for work optimization.
- Accountable device management with a thorough inventory.
- Risk alerts for quick reaction and data compliance protection.
- Data protection measures to mitigate data breaches
Learn more about our tools on our educational page! We'll continue working for our schools and hope to continue these partnerships in the near future to help create safer digital learning environments.
Let's forge ahead and create a brighter future for education, where technology empowers learning and data remain secure!