K-12 Cybersecurity and the Threat of Data Breaches

When it comes to protecting our students and staff, nothing is more important than data security.  

But as recent large-scale data breaches have revealed, our data is not always as secure as we think. This recent report from the K-12 Cybersecurity Resource Center and K-12 Security Information Exchange reveals that the frequency of cybersecurity incidents in K-12 schools and districts increased 18% in 2020, commensurate with the unprecedented degree to which learning shifted online. Students’ sudden and heavy reliance on digital tools – the Census Bureau reports that nearly 93% of households with school-age children report some form of distance learning in 2020 – combined with school staff’s rapid shift to remote work created a larger attack surface for malicious actors than ever before.  

Data breaches are defined by the U.S. Department of Education as any circumstance in which a school’s student data system is improperly accessed, compromised, or disclosed to a third party. They are the most common of K-12 cybersecurity incidents, accounting for 36% of reported attacks. Data breaches not only damage parent and caregiver trust but can also have dangerous and costly consequences on both the school and the affected students when sensitive information like social security numbers, bullying reports, and medical history is laid bare. 

Protecting Student Data

More than ever before, it is incumbent on educators and school IT staff to safeguard student data. While understanding the different network security layers and best practices can be timely and complex, it is better to proactively prevent cyberattacks from occurring than to react and deal with fallout when they do.  

What are strategic ways to keep K-12 data secure in 2021? Here, we share some best practices with you.   

1. Ensure all devices have the latest patches/upgrades. 

Vulnerabilities can occur when software has been left unpatched or outdated, leaving surfaces exposed to malicious actors. Getting into a rhythm of performing regular system-wide updates across your organization will protect your network and device infrastructure from some of the most common security incidents.  

2. Create firewalls and an approved access list. 

Implementing hardware or software network security systems – often called firewalls – that monitor ingoing and outgoing traffic to your school’s network is one of your best cyber defenses. Combine this measure with restricting access to the school network to a specified list of individuals, and it will be a great deal more difficult for actors outside of your organization to infiltrate your network and access private information.  

3. Review your data storage procedures to ensure compliance. 

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) outlines the measures that schools must take in order to protect student data privacy. In general, records may only be released with written permission from a parent or eligible student, with few exceptions that may include school officials with legitimate educational interest or appropriate officials in cases of health and safety emergencies.

Performing regular audits of how your school or district is storing student information, from start to finish, will help you not only gain a better understanding of the data flow and policies you have in place but also identify potential security vulnerabilities before they happen.  

4. Educate staff and students on data security. 

Many data breaches and other security incidents can be prevented through training students and staff on how to protect themselves and their sensitive data online. Equipping your community with skills like learning how to identify phishing emails, avoiding suspicious website domains, enabling two-factor authentication, and strengthening passwords can empower them with the knowledge they need to remain vigilant online.  

5. Prepare for a possible attack. 

While no one wants to believe that a data breach could occur in their organization, it is an IT best practice to create a written data breach response plan that outlines a sequence of steps to follow in the event of this type of security incident. Be sure to define what constitutes a data breach, identify responsible staff, clearly state the series of actions that should be taken, and explain a follow-up procedure.   

Having a document like this in your IT team’s back pocket will not only reduce stress but ensure decisive remedial action should a data breach occur.  

6. Choose only vendors who have proven commitment to security. 

Unfortunately, a school’s cybersecurity is only as strong as the security measures of the vendors with whom they partner. As remote learning has grown, the number of virtual learning tools, learning management systems, and student record systems on the market has proliferated. While many of them have robust security architectures in place, others may take shortcuts that could lead to compromised data for you and your students. When evaluating your existing and prospective technology partners, make sure to choose vendors who demonstrate a commitment to upholding security and data privacy at every step of the chain.    

When it comes to data security, a proven track record is the best place to start. Founded by a group of dads looking to keep their kids safe while giving them access to the digital world, Kajeet has been helping schools and districts bridge the Homework Gap with secure and reliable student connectivity solutions for over a decade.   

Kajeet operates with the highest degrees of network, software, and physical security. Our patented, award-winning Kajeet Sentinel® platform includes out-of-the-box security protocols, robust threat detection, and robust firewalls, preventing any outside access or interference. All Kajeet solutions operate on a secure, private network gateway – meaning that student and staff data does not hit the public Internet. And, our data centers include best-in-class equipment and operate on a hybrid public/private cloud.

While no system is foolproof, Kajeet’s security investments allow us to confidently offer our school and district partners the safest managed wireless connectivity solution on the market.   

Now is the time to explore your school or district’s cybersecurity protocols and tighten up your data protection plan. To learn more about how Kajeet can help you protect your students from online threats while enabling them to succeed in a digital world, contact us today.