Strengthening K-12 Cybersecurity: A Call to Action for School Districts

Cybersecurity threats in K-12 education have become increasingly prevalent, with schools facing data breaches, ransomware attacks, and other cybercrimes. These incidents not only disrupt school operations but can also compromise the privacy and safety of students, staff, and families. It's time for school districts to take action and prioritize cybersecurity, ensuring a safe and secure digital environment for all.

  1. Formally Adopt Cybersecurity as a District Priority and Implement a Cross-Departmental Team to Guide It

To address the growing cybersecurity challenges, school districts must formally recognize cybersecurity as a priority and allocate necessary resources. Establishing a cross-departmental team that includes representatives from IT, administration, curriculum, and other departments will ensure a holistic approach to cybersecurity. This team will guide the development and implementation of cybersecurity strategies, policies, and practices, fostering collaboration and communication across the organization.

  1. Adopt, Implement, and Enforce a National Cybersecurity Framework

School districts should adopt, implement, and enforce a national cybersecurity framework, such as the NIST Cybersecurity Framework. This framework provides guidelines, best practices, and standards to manage and reduce cybersecurity risks. Following a standardized framework ensures that all schools are taking the necessary steps to protect their digital infrastructure, data, and users.

  1. Develop a Comprehensive Cybersecurity Awareness and Training Program

Education is a critical component of any cybersecurity strategy. Developing a comprehensive cybersecurity awareness and training program for staff, students, and families will help build a culture of security. This program should include regular training sessions, workshops, and resources that cover various cybersecurity topics, such as phishing, password security, and safe internet practices.

  1. Ensure the District has Dedicated Resources whether Contracted, In-House, or Likely a Combination, That Are Dedicated to Cybersecurity 

Having a dedicated team focused solely on cybersecurity is essential for effectively managing and mitigating cyber risks. They would be responsible for overseeing the development and execution of cybersecurity strategies and policies, as well as ensuring the ongoing monitoring, assessment, and response to cybersecurity threats and incidents.

  1. Communicate, Evaluate, Measure, and Report on the Effectiveness and Benefits of Cybersecurity Across the Organization

To ensure the success of cybersecurity initiatives, it's vital to track progress, evaluate effectiveness, and communicate results. Regular reporting on cybersecurity metrics, such as the number of incidents, response times, and training participation rates, will provide valuable insights into the strengths and weaknesses of the district's cybersecurity posture. 

  1. Develop Cybersecurity Policy Across the Organization: Addressing Federal and Local Levels, Resourcing, Staffing, and Monitoring

A comprehensive cybersecurity policy is essential for guiding the district's approach to managing and mitigating cyber risks. This policy should cover areas such as access control, data protection, incident response, and risk management. Additionally, it should address the following critical aspects:

  • Policy at Federal and Local Levels: Cybersecurity policies should be aligned with both federal and local regulations and guidelines. This alignment ensures that the district's policies are compliant with legal requirements and leverage best practices from various levels of government.
  • Resourcing: Cybersecurity is not a one-time fix but requires ongoing investments in technology, infrastructure, and personnel. The policy should outline the necessary resources to support cybersecurity initiatives, including budget allocations and strategies for securing additional funding.
  • Staffing: The cybersecurity policy should include staffing recommendations based on a thorough risk assessment. These recommendations will help determine the size and structure of the dedicated cybersecurity team, ensuring that the district has the personnel needed to effectively manage and mitigate cyber risks.
  • eRate and Other Funding Sources: While eRate funding can help support cybersecurity initiatives in schools, it's essential to recognize that it's only a part of the solution. The policy should explore additional funding sources, such as grants, partnerships, and local or state funding, to supplement eRate and support a robust cybersecurity program.
  • Monitoring of the Constantly Changing Environment: The policy should emphasize the importance of continuous monitoring and assessment of the cybersecurity landscape. Regular evaluations will help the district stay up-to-date with emerging threats, vulnerabilities, and best practices, ensuring that the cybersecurity program remains effective and adaptive.

Regularly reviewing and updating the policy will ensure that it remains relevant and effective in addressing evolving cybersecurity threats.

The increasing reliance on technology in K-12 education makes cybersecurity a critical issue for school districts. By formally adopting cybersecurity as a priority, implementing a cross-departmental team, following a national framework, and developing comprehensive awareness programs, policies, and dedicated teams, school districts can build a robust cybersecurity posture that protects the digital environment for students, staff, and families. Now is the time to act and create a safer future for our schools, taking into account federal and local policies, resourcing, staffing, and the constantly changing cybersecurity landscape.