K12 Cybersecurity: How to Secure 1:1 Devices in Your School District

This blog post delves into the importance of security, cybersecurity, and data privacy in school districts implementing 1:1 device initiatives. It offers basic steps for evaluating, planning, and executing a security strategy. Our guided workbook, created in partnership with Intel, provides a personalized roadmap on “Pathways to Innovation: Building a Sustainable Digital Learning Environment”.

In the digital age, educational institutions are leveraging education technology (EdTech) and various devices to enhance learning experiences. One such initiative is the 1:1 device program, where every student and teacher has access to a personal device, such as a laptop or tablet. While these devices unlock a world of rich and diverse educational content, they also pose significant security challenges. To help you mitigate potential risks, our experts have gathered their insights on the importance of device security, cybersecurity, and data privacy in school districts implementing a 1:1 device initiative. 

Public schools play a crucial role in shaping the future of our society. As they embrace technology, it becomes imperative to address the security challenges associated with initiatives like the 1:1 device program. Let’s take a look at the importance of securing these devices in educational settings, especially within K12 school districts. 

Unlock your pathway to innovation with our guide.

Building 1:1 digital learning environments is a complex journey. To help you achieve the best outcomes, UDT & Intel have collaborated to gather key insights from seasoned CIOs, CTOs, educational leaders, and educators. Here’s what you’ll gain:

  • Personalized workbook to help you identify target areas to improve your 1:1 programs
  • A student-centered, decision-making Framework covering 6 key focus areas
  • A self-assessment to guide your journey
  • Details on how to create your custom action plan
  • And more!

 

Download your free copy now to start developing your personalized action plan.

The Importance of K12 Cybersecurity in School Districts 

The advent of 1:1 devices has revolutionized education, enabling “anytime, anywhere” and blended learning models; however, these devices can also expose sensitive and confidential information—academic records, financial data, and personal details—to potential threats and attacks. Leveraging a strong cyber defense to protect devices from unauthorized access, data breaches, malware, phishing, cyberattacks, and physical damage is paramount for ensuring the safety and success of digital learning. In the context of K12 schools, these cybersecurity risks are even more pronounced due to the vast number of users and the variety of devices in use at a given time. 

Securing these devices from cyber incidents is a complex and challenging task, especially when devices are used outside the school network and premises. Critical infrastructure, including school networks, must be safeguarded against cyber threats. School systems need to consider various factors and risks when choosing and deploying devices. These include the type and configuration of the devices, network and cloud infrastructure, user authentication and authorization, data encryption and backup, software updates and patches, web filtering and monitoring, device tracking and recovery, incident response and recovery, and user education and awareness. 

Moreover, school districts need to comply with relevant laws and regulations from government entities such as the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the U.S. Department of Education. These regulations include the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA), and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

 

Implementing Effective K12 Cybersecurity and Risk Management Strategies 

To address these risks and challenges, school districts must implement effective device security strategies that align with industry best practices and address emerging threats. This requires investing in the most impactful security measures, such as multi-factor authentication, endpoint protection, data backup, incident response, and user training. 

CISA, the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the K12 Security Information eXchange (K12 SIX) are pivotal partners in safeguarding K12 education environments.  

  • CISA equips school systems with essential cybersecurity tools, guidance, and insights to help them navigate cybersecurity threats.  
  • CoSN’s robust portfolio of cybersecurity resources is tailor-made for K12 school districts. 
  • NIST’s comprehensive frameworks serve as beacons for school districts. By adhering to NIST’s standards, districts can fortify their defenses against cyber threats.  
  • K12 SIX is a dynamic exchange that brings together K12 cybersecurity professionals and contains a treasure trove of information, offering insights, best practices, and collaboration opportunities.  

Recognizing and addressing resource constraints such as budget, staff, and time is also crucial. School districts can leverage available support mechanisms, such as grants, free or low-cost services, and collaborative partnerships, to ensure that their 1:1 device initiatives are not only successful but also secure. 

 

The Cost of Inadequate K12 Cybersecurity 

The consequences of inadequate device security can be severe. According to a report by the Economic Policy Institute, the average ransomware attack cost educational institutions $2.73 million in 2020, including the costs of downtime, repairs, and lost opportunities. That is $300,000 more than the next highest sector (distributors and transportation companies). In the case of K12 schools, the cost of cybersecurity incidents can be even higher when considering the potential impact on students’ education and personal data. 

Key Questions to Consider 

As school leaders and school administrators navigate the complexities of device security in their school districts, they should consider the following: 

  1. What are some of the device security challenges or incidents that you have faced in your district or school? 
  1. How confident are you in your current device security practices and tools, and how do you measure their effectiveness and impact? 
  1. What are some of the device security goals or expectations that you have for your district over the school year, and how do you plan to achieve them? 

By addressing these questions and implementing robust device security strategies, school districts can ensure the safety and success of their 1:1 device initiatives. Remember, a secure learning environment is a successful learning environment. 

 

3 Steps for Evaluating Where You Are Now 

Step 1 – Leverage our free guide. 

Download UDT and Intel’s Pathways to Innovation Guide to evaluate the current state of your district’s security posture, recognizing that it may not fit neatly into one specific stage, but may rather exist along a spectrum. 

Step 2 – Do a reflective exercise. 

Create a list of your current security challenges. This will later help you identify the areas where you can make small changes to have the most impact. 

Step 3 – Identify your path forward.  

Using the items you identified in the previous steps, pinpoint the pathway that aligns with your district or school’s status in terms of professional development for your 1:1 device program: Emerging, Evolving, or Establishing. 

Step 4 – Choose your focus areas. 

Pick two to three focus areas you want to commit to taking action on. These may include Device Protection; Data Protection; User Protection; Security Awareness; Security Monitoring; Security Response; or Threat Intelligence. 

Step 5 – Make your SMART plan. 

Create a SMART plan. This will set the foundation for your roadmap to improvement. A SMART plan has the following components:  

  • Specific. Clearly define what you want to achieve (what, why, and how). 
  • Measurable. Establish concrete criteria to track progress and success. 
  • Achievable. Set realistic and attainable objectives aligned to goals. 
  • Relevant. Align the goal with broader objectives and overall mission. 
  • Time-bound. Set a specific timeframe for achieving the goal. 


Step 6 – Take action!
 

Using your defined objective, decide what your baseline will be for your district’s cybersecurity framework and how you will establish it: what current data could you utilize or review? Identify collaborators and partners within and outside your district or school. List key contacts, vendors, or resources for your objective. Actively research and reach out to initiate collaboration. You should now have everything you need to execute your plan to improve security across your fleet of devices. 

 

Need support? Partner with an Expert 

With decades of experience supporting a majority of the 10 largest school districts in the US, UDT is a trusted partner for educational institutions that need to secure their critical infrastructure, navigate the complex cybersecurity landscape, and comply with local, state, and federal government regulations. UDT can provide customized solutions, expert guidance, and ongoing support to help you achieve your goals and protect your students, staff, and data.  

If you are interested in learning more about how UDT can help your school district, please contact us to schedule a consultation. 

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Experiencing a security breach?

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RECOMMENDED IMMEDIATE NEXT ACTIONS

  1. Determine which systems were impacted and immediately isolate them. Take the network offline at the switch level or physically unplug the systems from the wired or wireless network.
  2. Immediately take backups offline to preserve them. Scan backups with anti-virus and malware tools to ensure they’re not infected
  3. Initiate an immediate password reset on affected user accounts with new passwords that are no less than 14 characters in length. Do this for Senior Management accounts as well.

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