Login Identity Protection Build Credit Pricing Employers Support Schools Parents PTAs PTOs and Education Foundations  Superintendents, Business Officers, and School Boards Resources About Us Contact Us Education Center Press Releases In the News FAQ
Resources > Cyberattacks > School Cybersecurity Strategies—Safeguarding Learning Environments

School Cybersecurity Strategies—Safeguarding Learning Environments

In the ever-evolving digital landscape, schools and students face a mounting threat from cyberattacks. In 2022 alone, K-12 schools in the U.S. experienced over 400 cyberattacks, and the number is likely to increase.

From student records to financial and medical information, schools contain a wealth of sensitive data that makes them prime targets for cybercriminals. This guide will walk you through everything you need to know about school cybersecurity, including how schools can determine vulnerabilities and build a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy.

What Is School Cybersecurity?

School cybersecurity refers to the practices, policies, and technologies designed to protect educational institutions from cyber threats and ensure the safety of students, staff, and data within the educational environment. It involves safeguarding digital assets, networks, and information systems against a wide range of cyberattacks, such as malware, phishing, ransomware, data breaches, and more.

Top Cybersecurity Challenges for K-12 School Districts

K-12 school districts face a unique set of cybersecurity challenges due to their specific environments and the sensitive nature of the data they handle. Here are some of the top challenges for K-12 schools:

  1. Lack of cybersecurity awareness
  2. Vulnerable networks and devices
  3. Phishing and malware
  4. Internet of things (IoT) devices
  5. Insider threats
  6. Cloud computing

Lack of Cybersecurity Awareness

Many students, teachers, and staff don’t practice good cyber hygiene, such as using strong passwords, being cautious of phishing emails, and connecting to secured Wi-Fi networks. Schools need to implement regular cybersecurity training to change unsafe online behaviors and make security second nature.

Vulnerable Networks and Devices

Schools have hundreds or thousands of devices like laptops, tablets, and smart boards connected to their networks. If these aren’t properly secured and monitored, they provide easy access points for cybercriminals. To mitigate risks, schools should:

  • Use strong firewalls
  • Monitor connected devices
  • Update hardware and software regularly

Phishing and Malware

Schools contain a treasure trove of sensitive data, making them prime targets for phishing emails and malware designed to steal information. To minimize these risks, schools must install robust anti-malware software and teach students and staff how to spot and report phishing attempts.

Internet of Things (IoT) Devices

IoT devices, such as smart boards and security cameras, provide more entry points for hackers. Apart from securing these devices by enabling encryption, schools should also update hardware and software regularly to patch vulnerabilities. Finally, schools should consider segmenting IoT devices into their own secure networks.

Insider Threats

Insider threats are becoming a major concern for K-12 school districts. These may come from:

  • Existing or former staff members
  • Students
  • Contractors

To ensure there are no insider threats, schools should monitor for signs of suspicious user activity and unauthorized access to sensitive systems and data.

Cloud Computing

Many schools use cloud services like Google’s G-Suite and Microsoft 365. While convenient, these cloud platforms need to be properly secured by reviewing provider security policies and enabling all recommended controls. Schools should also use native security tools to detect anomalies, prevent data loss, and block threats.

Challenges of Implementing Cybersecurity in School Districts

Implementing effective cybersecurity measures in schools comes with many challenges, including:

  1. Lack of awareness and expertise
  2. Balancing security and access
  3. Student education challenges
  4. Privacy concerns
  5. Budget constraints
  6. Remote learning challenges

Lack of Awareness and Expertise

Many schools lack personnel with expertise in cybersecurity. IT staff is focused on keeping technology infrastructure functioning and may not have specialized knowledge about cyber risks. What’s more, educators and administrators frequently don’t receive training on cyber risks and best practices. This makes schools an easy target for cybercriminals looking to access sensitive data or deploy ransomware.

Balancing Security and Access

Schools aim to provide students and staff with open access to technology and the internet for learning and work purposes. However, this broad availability opens more opportunities for unauthorized network access. Schools need to find the right balance between security controls and open access—while a satisfactory degree of security is necessary, overly restrictive security policies can hamper learning and productivity.

Student Education Challenges

Educating students of all ages on cyber risks and smart online behavior is essential but difficult. Students often don’t view cybersecurity threats as seriously as adults and may engage in risky online behavior, such as sharing personal information on social media, downloading unverified apps, or clicking on suspicious links. Schools need engaging programs to teach students of all ages cybersecurity best practices and help them develop a security-oriented mindset.

Privacy Concerns

Some cybersecurity controls, such as monitoring network activity, can raise privacy concerns for students, parents, and educators. Schools must be transparent about monitoring and ensure proper data privacy procedures are in place. They need to gain the trust and support of all stakeholders to implement effective security controls.

Budget Constraints

Schools often have limited funding for cybersecurity. Purchasing advanced software and hardware and hiring dedicated IT staff may not be feasible. However, there are free or low-cost security alternatives schools can take advantage of, including:

  • Enabling two-factor authentication
  • Using open-source security tools
  • Spreading awareness on cybersecurity best practices

Remote Learning Challenges

The rise of remote and hybrid learning has introduced new cyber risks like unsecured home networks, personal devices accessing school resources, and increased phishing attempts. Educating students and parents on cyber hygiene and best practices for home learning environments is crucial.

Practical Steps To Implement Cybersecurity in Schools

As schools handle sensitive data and systems that need protection, cybersecurity should be a top priority. Here are some steps schools can take to strengthen their security:

  1. Conducting a risk assessment
  2. Developing security policies and procedures
  3. Providing regular cybersecurity training
  4. Using strong passwords
  5. Implementing multi-factor authentication
  6. Monitoring and testing systems regularly

Conducting a Risk Assessment

A risk assessment will identify vulnerabilities in the school’s network, systems, and data. It evaluates threats like hackers, malware, and data breaches to determine the likelihood and potential impact of an attack. The assessment provides a roadmap for improving security and prioritizing risks. Schools should conduct risk assessments annually or any time there are major changes to technology infrastructure.

Developing Security Policies and Procedures

Security policies establish rules around technology usage, data access, remote access, passwords, and more. Meanwhile, procedures outline the specific steps for implementing these policies. Schools need to tailor specific policies and procedures for students, teachers, administrators, and other users to help ensure compliance with security regulations like FERPA and COPPA.

Providing Regular Cybersecurity Training

Ongoing training makes students, teachers, and staff aware of risks like phishing, social engineering, and weak passwords. Phishing simulations and online courses can help educate the staff and students about cyberattack methods like phishing emails and ransomware, as well as the process of reporting potential security incidents to the appropriate technical teams. Annual or biannual cybersecurity training is critical, especially for new students and employees.

Using Strong Passwords

Passwords are the first line of defense for any account or network. Schools should require students and staff to use complex passwords that are at least 12 characters long and contain a mix of letters, numbers, and symbols. Users should be warned against reusing the same password across accounts.

Implementing Multi-Factor Authentication

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) employs an additional method, such as a security code sent to a phone, to provide an extra layer of protection for accounts with sensitive data. If a password is compromised, MFA can still block unauthorized access. Enabling MFA for student and staff accounts, Wi-Fi networks, and any cloud services used by the school will help prevent possible data breaches.

Monitoring and Testing Systems Regularly

Schools should monitor networks and systems for abnormal activity and conduct regular vulnerability scans and penetration tests to identify security gaps. Monitoring and testing allow schools to detect threats early and make improvements to prevent future attacks. 

Helping schools achieve cybersecurity and ward off malicious individuals from accessing their networks is crucial for keeping your child’s private data safe. However, as a parent, you have a critical role in securing your child’s personal information. A child’s identity is stolen every 30 seconds, and investing in an identity protection service like FreeKick will give you peace of mind that your child’s identity is protected around the clock.

FreeKick—Comprehensive Identity Protection for Your Whole Family (Coming Soon)

Offered by Austin Capital Bank, FreeKick combines a deposit account backed by FDIC insurance with identity monitoring and credit-building services. With FreeKick, your whole family is protected, as the identity protection services cover up to two parents and six children between the ages of 0 and 25. You also get access to credit-building services for your children aged 14 to 25.

Identity Protection Services

When you sign up for a FreeKick account, you can take advantage of all the services that FreeKick has to offer, including:

Identity Protection Services for Adult Children and ParentsIdentity Protection Services for Minor Children
• Credit profile monitoring
• Social Security number monitoring
• Dark web monitoring for personal information
• Up to $1 million identity theft insurance
• Full-service white-glove concierge credit restoration
• Lost wallet protection
• Court records monitoring
• Change of address monitoring
• Non-credit (Payday) loan monitoring
• Free FICO® Score monthly
• FICO® Score factors
• Experian credit report monthly
• Credit profile monitoring
• Social Security number monitoring
• Dark web monitoring for children’s personal information
• Up to $1 million identity theft insurance
• Full-service white-glove concierge credit restoration
• Sex offender monitoring—based on sponsor parent’s address

Parent-Sponsored Credit Building and Monitoring

FreeKick not only provides ID monitoring for parents and children but also offers another important service for minors and young adults—automated credit building. Building a credit history for your child early in life can bring them numerous benefits, including:

  • Building and improving their credit profile over time
  • Enabling them to enjoy the advantages of having good credit in the future
  • Potentially saving them more than $200,000 over their lifetime 

To get started, follow these simple steps:

  1.  Create an Account—Go to FreeKick.bank and choose a plan that suits your deposit requirements. You can then activate credit building for your child from the account dashboard
  2. Set It and Forget It—After activating the account, FreeKick creates a 12-month credit history for your child through a no-interest credit builder loan that gets repaid using the deposit. Once your child is of legal age, they can activate credit reporting
  3.  Keep Growing—When the 12-month period comes to an end, you can either renew the account for another term or close it and receive a 100% refund of your initial deposit

FreeKick Pricing

FreeKick deposits are FDIC-insured for up to $250,000. With any plan you choose, you’ll get top-notch identity protection for up to two parents and six children, as well as credit building for up to six children aged 14–25.

The pricing is flexible to meet different budgets, as indicated below:

FDIC-Insured DepositAnnual Fee
$3,000$0 (Free)
$2,000$49
$1,000$99
$10$149

If you’re looking to protect your children’s identity while establishing a strong credit profile for them, sign up for FreeKick today.