Ensuring Safety for the Next Generation

Troy Starr, Learning Counsel Writer

During the annual education symposium, The Gathering, educators, administrators and ed-tech professionals came together to discuss a wide variety of topics related to the technological shifts happening in education. As part of this conference, smaller groups formed to get a closer look at specific topics.

Security & Analytics Learning Groups

The safety and security of our youth is, and has always been, an imperative responsibility of all teachers and administrators. Technologies such as security cameras and access controls are extensively utilized in schools to assist in ensuring physical safety of students and staff. These technologies are employed widely and have had great success in reducing potential physical threats. In the age of digital citizenship, physical safety is not the only aspect of providing a truly safe environment, building a secure “digital house” is becoming an increasingly relevant concern. Becoming informed on the types of potential threats can greatly assist in a student or teachers’ ability to identify and avoid cyber-attacks. The use of analytics is increasingly being used to gain understanding and formulate strategies ensuring physical and digital safety in our schools. According to The Guardian, IHS Markit industry analysts estimated the market for security equipment in education to be $2.68bn in 2017 alone.

Hosted by Group Chairmen Caroline Rinker, Business Development Executive with Canon Solutions America, Minneapolis, MN and serving as proxy was our own Leilani Cauthen, CEO of the Learning Counsel, Sacramento, CA

Attending contributing group members included:

  • Peter Haapala, Superintendent, Carlton School District, Carlton, Minnesota
  • Ryan Gravette, Director of Technology, Idaho Digital Learning Academy, Boise, Idaho
  • Barb Meidinger, Principal, North Dakota Center for Distance Education, Fargo, North Dakota
  • Blair Bradley, Senior Account Executive, Canon Solutions America, Las Vegas, Nevada
  • Patrick Mount, Director of IT, St. Vrain Valley Schools, Longmont, Colorado

It is important to be knowledgeable of potential threats to avoid them completely. The expression, “knowledge is power”, is attributed to Sir Francis Bacon. In our discussions it also rings true that knowledge is safety! The following list encompasses some of the most common digital threats and how to identify and avoid them.

  1. Phishing Attacks – These attacks are often utilized to trick an individual into providing their username and password to hackers masquerading as legitimate institutions. When hackers employ this method, often large groups of individuals will receive emails which are created to appear as though they are from a familiar institution such as a bank, or government agency. Sometimes the email can even appear to be sent from a familiar email address.

Be wary of any emails that seem even vaguely unusual. Often phishing emails will look generic, addressing recipients in a general way such as “valued customer” or another greeting lacking personal recognition.

Avoid clicking any links in messages before you are certain that the email is from a legitimate contact. If uncertain, send an email or make a phone call to the organization that has supposedly contacted you.

Be extra-vigilant whenever there is a request for personal information, especially regarding banking or social security details.


  1. Malware – Malware stands for malicious software. The intent of these attacks is similar to phishing in that the goal is to gain access to personal information such as banking info or login credentials. Malware works differently than phishing due to the nature of how hackers attempt to gain this information. As mentioned, when there is a phishing attempt, hackers try to get a victim to provide their personal information by impersonating a trusted institution or individual. When the attacks come in the form of malware, hackers attempt to install software on a person’s computer without their knowledge.


The malware software can then operate on the victim’s computer in a variety of ways. Often, malware will record information input into the infected computer and relay it to the cyber criminals. Other times the software will essentially hijack the computer and use it to send out thousands of emails masquerading as the owner of the infected machine.


Red-flags to look out for include the tips mentioned regarding phishing attacks. However, when it comes to malware, cyber criminals can employ an even more insidious method. Occasionally, hackers gain control of a legitimate website. After they have control of the site they can hide the malware within what appears to be a download from the trusted website. In these situations, it can be near impossible to tell if malware has been downloaded until after the fact. It can be immensely helpful to have updated anti-virus software running. Anti-virus software can identify and warn a computer user of potentially infected files before downloading.


  1. Social Media Attacks – While it is common for people to be wary of suspicious emails and websites, social media is another area that hackers are targeting more frequently. These attacks often come in the form of an unidentified friend request or a request to install software. The tactics are the same, but the platform is different.


In general, it is a good rule of thumb to make sure your passwords are unique and complex. Additionally, many email services and social media sites are allowing for two-step verification. Employing these safeguards can make a big difference in improving your digital security.


The preceding hacking methods are some of the main threats to a school’s “digital house”. To prepare for and defend against such attacks it is critical to be informed. Additionally, teachers and administrators should ensure that firewalls and anti-virus applications are in place to further assist in preventing data breaches. It is important to not only rely on anti-virus software. Often it happens that it is a human decision which results in a security compromise.


Technology and analytics are being used to improve safety in the digital sense, as well as physical. One company, Zendrive, has utilized analytics technology to determine how dangerous traffic is near schools. They rank schools based on volume of traffic, collisions, cell phone use while driving, as well as other parameters, to provide an accurate picture of how safe the traffic is around a school. Companies like Zendrive are leading the way in utilizing analytics to provide statistical data helping to inform and increase safety.


There are a lot of options when it comes to providing and improving security measures in schools. The first step is to become informed of the risks as well as the remedies. With the advent of new applications and technologies, as well as the utilization of analytics, the future for physical and digital security in schools is looking up.


The in-person meeting with the Security & Analytics Groups was the first physical get-together of the online community discussing these topics on Knowstory.com. If you want to learn more or become part of the discussion, visit Knowstory and join any of the Learning Groups you are interested in! Also, stay tuned for conference calls on these subjects in the future.


Existing members of this group in Knowstory include:


Andrea Shaw – National Career Education

Joanne Najarian – Andover Public Schools

Kevin Lewis – Houston ISD

Stephen Mehlo – Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Kevin Whaley – Lee's Summit R-7 School District

Allen Fox – Monahans-Wickett-Pyote ISD

Peter Haapala – Warroad Public School District

Tom O'Neill – Canon U.S.A.

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