How To Safeguard Schools Against Cyber Attacks this School Year
All across the country, students are heading back to school, in one form or another. The pandemic obviously changed the education experience across the board. However, one of the most top-of-mind aspects from the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic is what it means for education and cybersecurity.
2020 saw the most cyber breaches against schools ever. Yet, while threats against schools are at an all-time high, that doesn’t mean that schools, students and parents are completely helpless in the face of hackers. Most districts have already accomplished a massive digital transformation by getting remote learning up-and-running, now it is just a matter of making sure that was done with security in mind. And while this may seem like a heavy lift for school districts and education stakeholders, several of the steps to building a robust cybersecurity strategy and related protocols are very straightforward to put in place.
Here are a few simple steps that schools, parents and students can use:
Using a password manager
Using long, complex passwords is an obvious step for faculty and students to take, but remembering hard passwords is sometimes a deterrent for them. That’s why using a password manager is so important. Certain password managers can also alert users when their passwords are exposed in a breach, so they can get the jump on protecting their data before anything valuable is lost.
Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is a fancy way of saying that multiple ways of proving you are you are necessary to access an account. For example, you need to know not just your password but also a code sent to your phone to access your bank account. This means that even if someone obtains your password, they won’t be able to get into your account. You should enable MFA on all your accounts, not just financial, but also social media accounts and other applications that can be used to wreak havoc if they were compromised.
Engage parental controls
To say that the number of tools, software and devices students are now using to complete schoolwork has increased dramatically as a result of the pandemic would be an understatement. And with that, it has never been more important for parents to familiarize themselves with the tools their children are using for education and to also make sure that the parental controls are in place. Most operating systems will allow you to limit the sites your children can visit, limit screen time, and more.
Response planning and protocols
Schools practice fire drills and other plans that are designed to keep students, faculty and staff safe and prepared. So why don’t we do the same with cybersecurity? Of course, spotting a phishing attempt or a potential threat is important. However, many students and even faculty and staff might not know how to recognize or report a security incident or something that doesn’t look quite right. As education continues to become more and more digital, now is the time for school districts and education institutions to build preparedness plans and drills so that their entire community is in the best position possible to prevent, identify and report cyber issues.
By planning and taking action, schools can position themselves to stay ahead of any potential threats, and keep students and faculty safe this school year.
About the author
Lisa Plaggemier is interim executive director (and board member) at the National Cyber Security Alliance. The NCSA builds public-private partnerships to help bring security to education. Plaggemier has previously held executive roles with the Ford Motor Company, CDK Global, InfoSec, and MediaPRO. She is also a frequent speaker at events hosted by RSA, Gartner, and SANS.