What are the next steps to defend K-12 schools from cyberattacks?

Education has been dealt a difficult hand over the past several years. The mass shift to virtual schooling during the pandemic upended systems in so many ways, and it shone a light on the aging infrastructure and technical deficits so many school districts struggle with. Not only did children and teachers have to be more flexible and resilient than ever, but districts also have been hammered by ransomware and other cyberattacks.

At the same time, schools aren’t always getting the right guidance for dealing with the increased cybersecurity threats. A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released late last year found that the U.S. Department of Education’s current plan for addressing K-12 school threats needed updating and was primarily focused on mitigating physical threats. And that plan was issued in 2010–in terms of cybersecurity, that might as well be eons ago.

So, what should education IT leaders be doing? And what should they be on the lookout for?


What we’ve seen and what we expect

The unfortunate reality is that the disruptions and increased cyber threat activity caused by the pandemic in 2020 and 2021 will persist in 2022. There were a record-setting 408 publicly disclosed cybersecurity incidents in 2020 in the K-12 sector, across 40 states, according to the State of K-12 Cybersecurity: 2020 Year in Review. Numbers for 2021 are still being finalized, but given what we’ve seen in terms of ransomware and cyber incidents overall, we expect them to be even higher.

We’re early into 2022, but we’re already seeing schools across the country revert back to virtual learning as a result of the omicron variant. Those types of shifts can too often open up potential opportunities for bad actors to strike; cybercriminals have that “kick ‘em while they’re down” mindset. And we’ll continue to see cyber actors evolve their methods as needed to bypass or fool current cybersecurity efforts and continue being successful.

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