The Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) has unveiled a set of free, web-based resources to help school leaders understand and assess their cyber security needs.

The resources appear on a page of CoSN’s web site called “Cyber Security for the Digital District.” Announced on Sept. 20, the new tools are intended to give school leaders the information they need to protect students and sensitive school data from internet dangers such as hacking, phishing, spyware, and more.

“We tell superintendents it is important to them [if they want] to keep their jobs,” said Steven Miller, director of CoSN’s Cyber Security Initiative and executive director of the Mass Networks Education Partnership.

Superintendents are responsible for the safety of their students, Miller explained, whether students are on the school bus or online. “If you don’t do something [to protect school networks], maybe nothing will happen. But if something does happen, it’ll be disruptive, it’ll be expensive,” he said. “Almost every single school district that we’ve asked has had some kind of cyber security problem.”

The site’s materials aim to help school leaders identify the status of their network security, evaluate strengths and weaknesses, and make needed improvements.

For superintendents and policy makers, the site explains the issues involved in cyber security and suggests eight detailed questions they should ask their chief information officer, such as: How are we doing so far? Are we prepared to survive a security crisis? Are our network security procedures and tools up to date?

For school technology leaders, the site features tools such as the District Security Self-Assessment Checklist, the Cyber Security Rubric and Planning Grid, and the Risk Methodology K-12 Survey.

A significant part of the web site will be devoted to sharing best practices from the education community, private industry, and government institutions. School districts in particular are encouraged to share their experiences in making their networks more secure–both for learning and operations.

Over the next year, more cyber security tools and case studies that feature districts of different sizes, budgets, levels of technology use, and educational philosophies will be added to the web site. Workshops also will be held in conjunction with major national ed-tech conferences, Miller said.

“This is absolutely marvelous the way it simplifies [cyber security issues] for the non-technical person,” said Joseph Renard, business operations and information security director for the Washington, D.C., Public Schools. “It is very easy to understand.”

Said Brian G. McDermott, manager of business operations and information systems for the Ayer Public Schools in Massachusetts: “Making sure [our district’s computers] are secure is a day-to-day struggle for us.” But these new tools are sure to help school leaders ask the right questions, work toward the right answers, and communicate the district’s needs to the community to get stakeholder buy-in, he said.

Corporate sponsors of the initiative are BellSouth Corp., Enterasys Networks, Microsoft Corp., SonicWALL Inc., Sun Microsystems Inc., SurfControl Inc., and Symantec Corp. Collectively, the sponsors reportedly contributed $350,000.

Support also comes from the Mass Networks Education Partnership and from the U.S. Department of Education in collaboration with the Northwest Regional Education Lab.

“Cyber Security for the Digital District” joins CoSN’s other leadership initiatives, including Data-driven Decision Making, www.3d2know.org; Safeguarding the Wired Schoolhouse, www.safewiredschools.org; Taking Total Cost of Ownership to the Classroom, www.classroomtco.org; and the development of the Council of School District Chief Technology Officers.

Links:

Consortium for School Networking

Cyber Security for the Digital District