School security breaches on the rise

Increases in physical and network security breaches among K-12 school districts are hampering schools’ efforts to improve their overall security, according to the third annual School Safety Index, a survey of more than 400 K-12 district IT and security directors conducted by CDW-G.

The survey measures 10 indicators and four “contraindicators” and sets a national benchmark that gauges the current state of school security.

It found that in the last 12 months, 55 percent of districts reported experiencing an IT breach, including unauthorized user access, hacking, or a virus. Sixty-seven percent experienced a physical breach, such as an unauthorized person in the school building or vandalism.

Despite increases in the number of reported security breaches, three-quarters of survey respondents rated their cyber and physical security measures as adequate.

Most IT breaches reported in the survey originated internally–41 percent from students and 22 percent from staff or employees. Districts reported that physical security breaches are caused by unidentified persons 42 percent of the time and by students 37 percent of the time.

And remaining unchanged for the third year in a row are districts’ top IT and physical security barriers: lack of funding, too few staff resources, and the need for more security tools.

CDW-G conducted this year’s survey with the goal of understanding not only what tools schools are using, but how they are implementing those tools and how school leaders view the state of school security today, said Bob Kirby, vice president of K-12 education for CDW-G.

“Districts reported gains in important areas such as securing buildings and networks, but many are missing the opportunity to counter increased breaches by sharing best practices with other districts and engaging district administrators regularly on security priorities and investments,” Kirby said.

The 2009 School Safety Index found that, on a scale of zero to 100 (where zero indicates the lowest security level and 100 indicates the highest), the national cyber security average is 22.2. That’s down from 38.6 in last year’s survey. Eighty-eight percent of responding districts are using wireless networks, and 92 percent are using some type of encryption to protect data. Sixty-five percent of schools that do not currently have wireless networks are considering or will implement one within the next year.

Nearly all districts have acceptable use policies (AUP), which govern how school networks are used, but only 40 percent of districts actively enforce those policies. Forty percent said they spend only four hours or less per month reviewing questionable internet activity.

Measured on the same zero to 100 scale, the physical security average on this year’s security index is 32.2. That’s down from 44.7 in last year’s survey. Security-camera use increased from 70 percent in 2008 to 79 percent in 2009. But half of districts surveyed reported using cameras to monitor only outside areas.

Thirty-six percent of districts let local emergency response personnel view camera footage in real time, and 24 percent are planning or implementing this capability in the next 12 months.

Emergency communications methods are on the rise, with 70 percent of districts reporting that they use a mass notification system for real-time safety communications, up from 45 percent in 2008. Almost half–46 percent–of districts that do not currently have a mass notification system are considering implementing one in the next year.

“School safety is top of mind for administrators, teachers, and parents–as well as students,” Kirby said.

While schools are taking more steps to secure their campuses and their computer networks, threats are increasing at the same time, and school leaders must be aware of that, Kirby added.

And one district can be another district’s biggest help: Sharing advice and successful security best practices can help districts prioritize their needs and make the most of stretched budgets, he said.


CDW-G 2009 School Safety Index

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