The State of Security in Remote Learning: Examining New Concerns School Systems Now Face

Category: Data Security , Cyberbytes
Author: Josh Isley

2020 has reshaped the education process in ways unimaginable. No one could have thought that schools would have to completely shut their doors and operate entirely remotely. For teachers and students alike, there have been challenges that have required everyone to adapt in a short timeframe. Budget cuts have made things difficult and have tested the resourcefulness of educators across the country. Through everything, the focus has remained the same: give K-12 students the best opportunity to learn and succeed in the midst of a national pandemic. Many students, who have grown up in a digital world, made the transition smoothly and even excelled. While the mission is for student success during these times, the need for proper cybersecurity is also of the upmost importance. Many IT managers for educational institutions are learning about new security gaps that threaten the integrity of the institution. Security must continue to be a cornerstone to successful remote education for the protection of student and faculty data. Here is a look at the current state of cybersecurity in a remote learning environment.

School is out for summer - but hackers aren't

COVID-19 Unearthing Cybersecurity Flaws

It’s quite remarkable to think about what school districts were able to do in the face of COVID-19. District leaders were given limited resources to accommodate for their students in an extremely short amount of time. Overall, the transition was handled very well. Now IT leaders are utilizing the summer months to prepare for the hybrid learning environment that will proceed in the fall. Each district has a unique set of tools and applications that are utilized to create a digital classroom. The IT teams in each district will have to examine each application being used, monitor the scale in which they are used, and construct strong security measures within the available resources. The priorities for the IT teams will be to ensure student safety, secure sensitive information, and fulfill all necessary compliance requirements. Before the pandemic, school districts weren’t nearly as concerned about securing home technologies that students would utilize. Now however, it’s imperative to consider how to secure every home because of the shared network that exist with each student and teacher within the digital classroom. While the summer break is certainly helpful for these projects and tasks, school districts are still having to work at an accelerated pace to ensure that these security measures are effective when school resumes.

Attacks Continue

According to an Article by Security Boulevard, as of May 2020, there have been 84 publicly disclosed attacks in K-12 school districts. It’s highly probable that the numbers will continue to climb and likely will pass the number of incidents that occurred in 2019. If IT teams neglect cybersecurity during implementation of new hybrid classrooms for the new school year, the number of incidents will certainly see an increase before the end of 2020.

Cloud Security is a Concern

A weakness for many K-12 IT teams is a lack of cloud security tools. Cloud security is crucial in helping IT teams monitor suspicious activity and allows them to detect any incidents that might happen within education cloud-based apps such as Microsoft 365 or G Suite for Education. IT leaders must take the necessary steps to improve cloud security before the start of the new school year. Otherwise, personal and school-issued devices are going to see an uptick in malware incidents.

Updating Cyber Policies

The threat of cyber-attacks can no longer be neglected in the current state of education. In the past, inconsistencies have plagued many K-12 districts in the handling of cyber incidents. Cyber policies must adapt with the times and be updated to reflect consistent security and attention to detail. This must be addressed in 2020-2021 planning and installed by the beginning of the new school year. Updating cyber policies is both beneficial for short-term and long-term success of cybersecurity in education.

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Conclusion

This summer is extremely pivotal for the state of K-12 cybersecurity. School security teams must look back on what worked and didn’t work from remote education during the Spring 2020 semester and diligently prepare for the future. The 2020-2021 school year is predicted to utilize more technology-based learning than ever before. It must be a crucial point of emphasis for school districts to secure student and institutional data by updating policies, securing cloud-based applications, and heightening security awareness from every member of the institution.

June 16, 2020
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