Last September, the Los Angeles Unified School District was hit by a ransomware attack at the start of the new school year. The second-largest educational district in the country, with more than 600,000 students and 25,000 employees, had its email taken offline and other internal systems affected by the cyberattack. When the district chose not to pay the ransom, sensitive employee data was posted online. While this attack may seem extraordinary because of its size and scope, digital security breaches like this are happening at educational institutions across the country. And school districts need to take defensive action against cyberattacks now before it’s too late.
With school districts across the U.S. being targeted by cyberattacks, the need for robust, cost-effective cybersecurity support is not just important–it’s now considered essential. But many local governments and educational institutions remain unprepared for this type of active threat. A recent report by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency on the K-12 school cybersecurity landscape found that close to 50 percent of the school districts in the country have neither the staff nor the budget to adequately protect their IT infrastructure.
As schools look for solutions to bridge this security gap, one easy and cost-effective method they should consider is the adoption of mobile device management (MDM) platforms. A small number of schools are currently using this solution to their advantage. This includes public schools like the Interboro School District in Prospect Park, PA, which employs MDM to manage a fleet of iPads used to supplement classroom instruction. Interboro uses MDM to ensure the tablets are secure and functioning properly, the students using them are staying safe online, and the costs associated with maintaining the devices are minimized.
IT departments at K-12 schools in the U.S. should follow Interboro’s example. By using MDM platforms, they can keep their technology costs low in a time of economic uncertainty and increase the impact of their existing IT staff by freeing them up to be more proactive in protecting against cyberattacks.
So how does it work? With the use of MDM software, schools can easily monitor, manage, and secure all their mobile devices to ensure they are performing well and being used safely.
Specifically, here are three ways MDM platforms can benefit schools today:
Whereas PCs and laptops typically have pre-installed malware protection in them, tablets and mobile phones are much more vulnerable to cyberattacks. That means unmanaged mobile devices pose a variety of real security risks. MDM offers an effective way to safeguard these devices, ensuring their security with several configurations and restriction options.
For example, the use of certain device functionalities or apps can be prohibited, and the use of complex passwords can be enforced across all devices. With encrypted containers separating personal data from work data, companies can ensure that sensitive data does not leak to third parties, like through instant messaging apps. MDM can also create application blacklists for dangerous or distracting apps/websites, remote device lock and wipe functions, and add strong encryption requirements for sensitive files like students’ academic records.
Maximizing impact of IT staff
The automation features of an MDM platform allow IT managers to automate tedious and time-consuming tasks like device enrollment and software updates. This way a school’s IT staff can spend more time being proactive about protecting the school’s network against cyberattacks. Also, administrators can save time and money by deploying business policies, automating installations, and enforcing configurations, applications, and more. Disposing of manual tasks reduces human error and helps ensure compliance and the secure use of all mobile devices. Your chosen applications and configuration profiles, such as passcode and encryption requirements and email configurations, can be automatically installed to a group of devices.
Additionally, the use of patch management software makes it easy to centrally monitor the patching status of your IT environment. It also allows you to upload and install all necessary patches to your devices automatically. This means that your IT manager and/or device user doesn’t have to manually search for new patches and install them separately.
MDM can help schools lower costs by limiting data usage, increasing the longevity of devices through automation of some maintenance tasks, increasing the efficiency of IT staff, and facilitating the convenient sharing of devices between students. MDM location tracking also helps prevent lost or stolen devices, which can be a major cost for some organizations. While time savings certainly translate directly to cost savings, especially when considering the salaries for IT managers or fees for IT service providers, the ROI of mobile device management extends to the cost savings when factoring in data usage.
MDM can ensure that devices under management have app usage restrictions (i.e., not allowing the use of entertainment streamers like Netflix), thus saving on data costs. Such control features can also ensure that students and district users are only using applications you’ve approved in advance. The enhanced longevity that MDM platforms provide can make the annual operating cost per 10 devices drop from approximately $425 to $6.25, or even less depending on the lifecycle of the device.
Schools that employ MDM platforms can also facilitate the convenient, secure sharing of iPads and other devices that can help supplement classroom instruction. By having a system that allows multiple students to easily use the same device, schools maximize utilization of their existing technology fleet and save on new device purchasing and maintenance costs in the future.
With the rising tide of cyberattacks on schools and the uncertain economic situation, there has never been a better time for schools to adopt an MDM platform to bolster cybersecurity. By maximizing the impact of existing IT staff and lowering their technology costs, administrators at K-12 schools in the U.S. can be proactive about this threat by adopting MDM platforms to combat future cyberattacks. It’s essential they act quickly because the threat is out there, as seen by recent high-profile attacks, and it’s only going to get worse.
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