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Cybersecurity for Schools: Challenges, Threats, and Solutions | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #ransomware

Cybersecurity for schools takes K-12’s unique cybersecurity & safety challenges and threats into account to create a safety learning environment

From higher education to elementary, schools have a lot of responsibilities. Not only must they mold the hearts and minds of their students, but they also have to provide a safe learning environment.

That’s a tall order in today’s climate. School districts are contending with unprecedented cyber threats on an increasingly frequent basis. Simultaneously, a mental health crisis is raising the stakes for student safety, challenging schools to intervene before bad leads to worse.

The answer? Cybersecurity — at least in part. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for these challenges, but cybersecurity training, student privacy, and data protection are great ways to get started.

Read on to learn more about cybersecurity for schools and how the right tools can help you get ahead of online threats, protect student data, and keep people safe.

Why School Districts Need Cybersecurity

According to SchoolSafety.gov, which is run by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, virtually every educational institution is at risk of cyber attack — especially K-12 school districts.

Simply put, students are more online than ever before. Whether it be for homework, talking to classmates, or contacting teachers, American youth rely on technology in nearly every aspect of the learning experience. Unfortunately, cybercriminals have taken notice.

Per the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the average school district experiences at least one cyber incident per school day. Worse yet, CISA reported in 2023 that K-12 cyber attacks tripled during the COVID-19 pandemic. In other words, the problem is only getting worse.

Still not convinced? Let’s put it into perspective. Microsoft’s global threat activity tracker monitors all reported malware encounters for the past 30 days. As of March 2023, education leads all industries with nearly 80% of all 9.5 million encounters. By comparison, retail is the next most-targeted industry, accounting for just 9.7% of malware reports.

Why Do Hackers Target K-12 Schools?

Threat actors and adversaries consider K-12 school districts relatively easy targets. Rather than attack large organizations with enterprise-grade resources, they concentrate their efforts on “target rich, cyber poor” institutions.

What do we mean by target rich? In short, sensitive data is more valuable in the eyes of a hacker, who can flip it for a quick buck on the dark web. The U.S. Department of Education reports a student record can go for between $250 to $350 online.

Consider the amount of sensitive information the average school district or university has on hand at any given time. Better yet, think about all the different types of student data they have:

  • Personal information: Social Security numbers, names, addresses, and telephone numbers
  • Financial information: Payment card data, financial aid, and family income
  • Medical information: Dietary restrictions, medical histories, diagnoses, etc
  • Academic information: Disciplinary records, grades, class rosters, and schedules

Some of these may not seem like a big deal. But could you imagine what might happen if someone’s Social Security number were involved in a data breach? A hacker could use it to steal their identity, commit fraud, and tarnish their credit for years to come.

Indeed, failure to protect student privacy can have lasting consequences, per NPR. Say a student has a disciplinary record that should’ve been expunged, but is now publicly available online. That information could complicate college applications, job interviews, and court hearings in the future.

Of course, a cyber incident can have devastating impacts on the institution, too. Globally, the average cost of a data breach is $4.45 million. Likewise, cyber attacks can shut down schools for weeks at a time.

Common Security Threats

Not sure what you’re up against? Here are the cyber threats you should expect:

  • Malware infections: Malware means malicious software. Like a virus, it bypasses your defenses and infects your infrastructure to steal confidential data.
  • Ransomware attacks: A ransomware attack is a type of malware that either steals sensitive data or blocks access to critical resources until you’ve paid a hefty ransom.
  • Phishing attacks: A phishing attack uses social engineering tactics to trick users into sharing personal information and/or login credentials. Cybercriminals might also scam students or staff into clicking malicious links or downloading virus-ridden attachments.
  • Account takeovers: When someone experiences a malware or phishing attack, the hacker may gain access to their school account. This allows them to exfiltrate student data and laterally target other users.
  • Insider threats: Malicious insiders may purposefully leak sensitive information. More often, however, students and staff accidentally expose personal data, such as by sharing the wrong attachment in an email.

Don’t Overlook Cyber Safety

Cyber safety and cybersecurity are two halves of the same coin. While the former focuses on protecting people from physical and emotional harm, the latter is more about information security.

Administrators traditionally consider them separate domains. In reality, IT and campus safety leaders need to break these silos and work together. Why? Because student safety risks are originating and/or manifesting online in many dangerous ways.


Globally, 75% of kids are exposed to cyber safety risks each year, including cyberbullying and online harassment. This type of toxicity can have long-term impacts on adolescents, especially in terms of their mental health.

In fact, cyberbullying victims are more prone to anxiety and depression. And, they’re more likely to harm themselves and experience suicidal ideation. Schools should be aware that students may be discussing their experiences with fellow students using apps like Google Docs or Google Chat. Likewise, bullies may even use cloud applications as harassment mechanisms, such as creating mean-spirited PowerPoint presentations about their victims.

Self-harm and suicide

Self-harm and suicide are linked, but not exactly the same. Students who self-harm may not intend to end their life — however, they are more likely to attempt suicide.

It’s not uncommon for students to document their feelings online, whether intentionally or not. For example, they may write notes discussing suicidal themes or search the internet for ways to hurt themselves.

Inappropriate content

Inappropriate content can include anything appealing to sex, violence, or illegal activities. Many districts may not realize underaged students use school-provided resources, such as laptops or tablets, to access explicit material. Notably, they may also use cloud applications like Google Drive to share sexually explicit images of themselves or other classmates. In other words, child pornography could be floating through your cloud domain — and worse yet, it could end up online if you experience a data breach.

School violence

Violent behavior is more common than schools care to admit. Sometimes, violent incidents begin as verbal threats and may escalate to pushing, shoving, and fighting. Other times, they can spiral into much graver circumstances, such as a school shooting.

Cybersecurity Challenges and Vulnerabilities

Ensuring data security and student safety is easier said than done. Throughout the education sector, colleges and school districts are facing several daunting challenges:

  • Data overload: The sheer volume of users, data sources, devices, and applications within educational institutions is simply too much to manage. Protecting such a vast array of data points is a monumental task, often stretching resources thin.
  • IT sprawl: Bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies have allowed exponentially more laptops, tablets, and mobile devices to access school networks, many of which lack adequate protection.
  • Insufficient resources: Many educational institutions, and school districts especially, struggle to allocate personnel and budget to combat security threats.
  • Lack of cloud security: Although 90% of schools use cloud services, just 20% dedicate any of their cybersecurity budgets to protecting cloud data. That means they lack visibility into their Google Workspace and Microsoft 365 domains and are therefore unable to detect threats and safety risks before they impact the district.

Indeed, cybersecurity is an uphill battle — but, it’s not one you can’t win. With the right tools at your side, you can effectively mitigate security threats and protect your students at scale.

Cybersecurity for Schools Made Easy

Information security is often more complicated than it needs to be. That’s why ManagedMethods makes it simple with two additional layers of protection.

Cloud Monitor is a data loss prevention tool that natively integrates into Google Workspace and Microsoft 365. With one dashboard to rule them all, you gain comprehensive control over your entire cloud domains.

Not only does it maximize your visibility into cloud-based cyber threats and safety risks, it automatically notifies you when policy violations occur. That way, whether students are sharing too much information or discussing self-harm, you’ll have the insight you need to leap into action.

You can also leverage Content Filter, a browser-based web filtering tool made for Google Chrome. More than just a way to block websites and inappropriate content, it’ll alert you when users are searching for terms you need to know about, such as suicide or school violence. This empowers you to raise cybersecurity awareness, protect your students, and intervene when needed.

The best part? Both these solutions are highly customizable, scalable, user-friendly, and cost-effective. No matter your skill level or budget, we can adapt our tools to meet your needs.

Discover the power of ManagedMethods and audit your Google Workspace and/or Microsoft 365 for free.

The post Cybersecurity for Schools: Challenges, Threats, and Solutions appeared first on ManagedMethods.

*** This is a Security Bloggers Network syndicated blog from ManagedMethods authored by Katie Fritchen. Read the original post at: https://managedmethods.com/blog/cybersecurity-for-schools/


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