Students cannot learn and focus on their studies effectively when they’re afraid. Creating a safe environment is essential; good teachers have known that for centuries. As students, educators, and administrators all come to rely upon technology, you must face new threats as well, the kind of threats that can cause a student to lose all coursework in moments. Alternatively, an incident can pour gasoline on the fires of cyberbullying.
Let’s take a closer look at how serious this challenge is for educators.
The Special Challenge Educators Face in Student Protection
There are both legal and social reasons why educators are expected to work hard to protect their students. In many states and countries, teachers are held to a higher standard. They’re expected to notice abuse, report abuse to the authorities, and keep order. That’s not all though; teachers are also expected to teach, create a love of learning, and impart life skills to young people. When you add it all up, educators have a tough job!
Balancing the need for order and safety with the need to engage students is nothing new. What is new? There are new cybersecurity threats hitting schools and colleges across the nation.
College Cybersecurity Incidents in the News
The threats facing students are constantly evolving and becoming more difficult to manage. Unfortunately, schools are struggling to keep up with these threats. Here are some of the challenges educators have faced in recent years:
- 2017: The Dark Overlord, a hacking group, is credited with attacking schools in Montana and two other states. Not only were school systems disrupted for several days, but ransoms were also demanded and paid, according to CNBC.
- 2018: Victoria Independent School District (Texas) reported a security incident. Emails accounts for the district were accessed without authorization. As a result, the school mailed out notification letters to those impacted. Also, the school district has paid for identity theft protection services.
- U.S. Department of Education Warning: To raise awareness of the cybersecurity threat facing educators, the Department has issued a warning to all K-12 schools. Ransom and threats of violence appear to be the latest cyber threat.
How can your school reduce the likelihood and impact of cybersecurity incidents? Simple. Start by admitting an unpleasant truth: you’ll not be able to stop every attack. That’s why you need several lines of defense.
Improve Your School’s Cybersecurity This Month in 5 Steps
Use all these methods together for the best results.
- Refresh your cybersecurity strategy
Your strategy needs to balance means (e.g., budget, tools, and your people) with ends (i.e., cyber threats). If your budget has been reduced, then you’ll have to make some hard choices about which threats to focus on. More likely, budget per se isn’t your main concern. Instead, you have to make choices about goals to pursue. We recommend using the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) concept to refresh your cybersecurity strategy.
Tip: Remember to include cybersecurity programs and resources provided by related institutions such as the state and federal governments.
- Increase cybersecurity awareness for staff and students
All effective cybersecurity programs include awareness. In the education sector, you’ll need to segment your awareness and training to fit with different audiences. For example, include a cybersecurity session in the fall term, preferably before Thanksgiving, aimed at students. For staff and faculty, organizing more in-depth training sessions makes sense since they have more sensitive data and systems at their disposal.
Resource: Developing an awareness and training program from scratch is tough. To help you overcome that obstacle, model what other schools are doing. Harford Technical High School in Maryland has jumped in with both feet by offering a multi-year cybersecurity education program to students, according to US News. At the higher education level, look at the University of Virginia’s information security program.
- Improve consistency with cybersecurity software tools
With a refreshed strategy and awareness programs in place, you need to make sure that staff members are equipped to succeed. It may be tough for cybersecurity professionals to admit, but most people simply don’t think about security issues much. To help those end users, you need to give them robust tools. You probably already have firewalls and antivirus software, but you need more than that in place to protect your organization.
Use a Single Sign-On solution to simplify security for your end users. Instead of asking users to remember multiple passwords and complicated password rules, they can use one password. Make sure the single sign-on the solution you choose supports SaaS License Management. By reducing your SaaS (software as a service) costs, you can free up more capacity to invest in cybersecurity.
- Reduce employee misconduct risk with offboarding processes
When an employee leaves a school, he or she may represent a heightened security risk. Why? He or she may be frustrated at the school’s management or others in the school community. You can’t change how former employees feel. However, you can reduce the ability to obtain and abuse sensitive data. To put this technique to work, read our article: Reduce Employee Fraud Risk: 5 Ways to Improve Offboarding.
- Monitor cybersecurity trends for evolving risks
By this point, you have a well-balanced cybersecurity program in place to protect students, staff, and faculty. You might want to put up your feet and celebrate your wins. Alas, the cybersecurity environment requires you to lean in every day. To stay informed about new trends and resources, we recommend using the following methods:
- Professional development: Whether you have two or 20 cybersecurity specialists on your team, it’s vital to keep their skills sharp. Start by inviting your staff to earn a cybersecurity designation from ISACA. After they achieve that level of expertise, provide budget and a few days of paid time off to keep up with studies.
- Peer collaboration: Cybersecurity specialists in the financial services industry regularly meet to compare notes and share information. Take this concept and apply it to the education sector. All you need to find is three or four peers at similar schools in your city or state and schedule an hour for a conversation. This is one of the best ways to detect new threats before they reach the news media.