News

Wi-Fi in schools: Security vs. accessibility

By Alok Kapur
September 17th, 2014

Wi-Fi in schools can enhance student learning, but addressing the security risks is a good learning opportunity for administrators as well

wi-fiWi-Fi has been adopted with great enthusiasm by schools around the country; the opportunities it presents for learning are vast.

So, recent news that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will spend $2 billion to boost wireless internet connectivity in U.S. schools and libraries during the next two years is a great step forward. While FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has called it a “watershed moment” to give wireless access to an estimated 10 million students, privacy experts are raising a collective eyebrow.

One of the possible downfalls to having students on Wi-Fi networks at school is the clear security risk: The network could be hacked, or a student could bring a virus from home onto the school’s wireless network. The very benefit of Wi-Fi in schools—easy, open access—is also the biggest threat. If it’s easy for the students to access, but it’s just as easy for hackers, that means everything on a school’s Wi-Fi network is vulnerable.

The FCC initiative is clearly aimed at promoting education and bringing schools up to speed, but is the department helping school administrators understand the risks, or simply doling out the cash without further security advice?

(Next page: Examples of the vulnerability of data in our school systems)