Educational institutions must urgently take action to improve their protections when it comes to K-12 cybersecurity measures

How to evolve your K-12 cybersecurity approach

Educational institutions must urgently take action to improve their protections when it comes to K-12 cybersecurity measures

Analyzing systems, assets, data, and capabilities properly identifies risks so security professionals can formulate a plan of action to improve a school’s cybersecurity posture. The focus should be placed on K-12 cybersecurity preparedness with a strong emphasis on developing an incident response plan encompassing multiple scenarios, such as ransomware and other attacks.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Framework is a starting point for building a new cybersecurity plan or strengthening an existing one. The Framework Core identifies and documents cybersecurity activities and outcomes for organizations to manage and control, giving schools a better understanding of cybersecurity risk management. The Framework Implementation Tiers can help to identify the appropriate level of rigor for a cybersecurity program, and is often used to communicate risk appetite, mission priority and budget. Framework Profiles can be used to prioritize opportunities for cybersecurity improvement.

Tools that provide students access to information or encourage collaboration are beneficial to students and faculty, but can be a challenge to many IT security professionals. Taking on that challenge is essential to the advancement of many school programs and to enable students to be competitive in the ever-changing digital world. By seeking solutions that benefit both parties, schools can continue to provide excellent educational opportunities while also minimizing cyber risks.

Refresh: Educate Students and Faculty on K-12 Cybersecurity

With cybersecurity incidents and attacks becoming more frequent in the news, the need for good cybersecurity practices is generally understood. But it’s always helpful to re-emphasize the need for good practices and refresh education.

Everyone plays a role in cybersecurity, so it is essential to maintain a secure environment with minimal risks. Scheduling recurring training with security professionals will build a culture of understanding the threats, risks and mitigation efforts. While many may view this as tedious and time-consuming, the benefits will pay dividends in the future.

Reset: Implement Monitoring Programs

Strong monitoring and protection solutions ensure timely detection and response against active threats in a way that minimizes the risk of a successful attack. A starting point is to identify well-known vendors and suppliers with an established record that can provide extra resources and support if necessary. Using a secure supply chain to purchase and utilize technology solutions that feature built-in cybersecurity controls can further mitigate risks and data spillage.

Many adoptees of cloud-based solutions have found that they can further utilize intelligent software with artificial intelligence to detect unusual patterns, create remote alerts and have another layer of protection against cyber threats.

Revamp: Seek the Right Talent

When possible, school districts should evaluate ways to revamp their cybersecurity human resource capacity. These are hard conversations for school leadership to have.  The potential of dedicating funding to new, difficult-to-hire, highly valued professionals, can be at the expense of important programs.  However, many schools have more managed users than our country’s largest companies serving some of our most vulnerable people.  Part of human capacity evaluation should explore the adoption of new operating models, such as incorporating “as-a-service” offerings that seamlessly extend the capabilities of the cybersecurity practice through qualified service providers. This is paramount to the detection and response phases of an attack, though also highly impactful in the case of recovery.

There should also be a shift in mindsets to align with standard cybersecurity strategy, particularly as it relates to the top cybersecurity role in any organization, namely the role of chief information security officer. This role has not enjoyed the same level of adoption in K-12 as in other segments or industries. School districts should strongly consider appointing a person with the unique responsibility of leading K-12 cybersecurity efforts in every school and/or district as appropriate.    

The past two years have changed how the world thinks and operates. We are likely to see even more changes to our school environments over time, but also recognize that remote learning isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. What’s important right now is finding and establishing flexible and scalable solutions that will limit cyber breaches, today and in the future.

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