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Since the advent of the pandemic, education has been in a state of vulnerability. The rapid adoption of technology, driven by the need to introduce remote learning, has given many educators a boost. They need time to normalize, but recent trends threaten their ability to do so.
Amid technological chaos, opportunistic hackers are targeting schools with increased fervor, causing damaging delays and disruptions both systemically and financially. It’s time for schools to start being proactive about cybersecurity, otherwise they risk paying high tuition fees to find out why they should have acted sooner.
The use of education technology is booming across the country. A recent study showed that ed-tech increased 52% from pre-pandemic levels, with US school districts using an average of nearly 1,500 different digital tools each month. While these digital tools hold the power to streamline and transform classroom management for the better, teachers still feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of technological solutions they are being asked to implement.
This problem is exacerbated by many technology-resistant districts and teachers being forced to catch up all at once. When the pandemic hit, using devices and technology in the classroom was no longer an option – learning quickly had to be online and accessible. Right now, the dam has completely broken on technology adoption and we’re only likely to see these trends accelerating. Of course, as other industries have seen over the past couple of years, these unchecked developments often cast unsavory shadows.
An attractive target for hackers
School districts were already an attractive target for hackers before the pandemic, but the rapid adoption of technology – often outpacing security measures to match these digital advances – has effectively boiled the waters for malicious elements at the search for a “soft” target.
Cyberattacks on school districts have increased by 18 percent in 2020, at the height of the pandemic. The trend has continued since and is not expected to slow down in 2022. Among attacks against school districts, ransomware – an attack that locks users into their own systems and then demands a ransom to restore their legitimate access – is far the most common variety.
Just weeks into 2022, there were already several major ransomware headlines targeting school districts. The bigger story was the piracy of educational website service provider FinalSite, which shut down the websites of 5,000 schools and colleges. Another story concerned the cancellation of classes for 75,000 students after the Albuquerque Public Schools district fell victim to a ransomware attack that it had been fending off for several weeks.
Another case, also in New Mexico, affected the city of Truth & Consequences. The city suffered a cyberattack just after Christmas and, as of mid-January, had still not regained control of its computer systems.
District managers no longer have time to drag their feet when it comes to cybersecurity. This can be difficult, especially given budgetary challenges, but the gap between digital advancement and lack of cybersecurity poses too much of a risk for schools.
Make cybersecurity a priority in hiring
So what can school districts do to prepare? The first step is to make cybersecurity a real priority – and that includes budgeting and hiring. Many schools still lack dedicated cybersecurity officers, instead relying – in many cases at best – on a CIO who happens to be a tech savvy.
This is starting to change in light of recent events, with more and more schools hiring cyber security officers and resource people. Following this trend will be essential to establish a solid foundation.
Budgeting will always be a challenge, of course, given that many school districts still have no dedicated cybersecurity budget. This needs to change, but some schools have started to get creative on this front in the meantime. One possibility is to integrate cybersecurity efforts into operating budgets. Another timely approach is to capitalize on new and improved “e-grants” offered by federal and local governments to meet this growing need.
The most important thing is simply not to be ad hoc when it comes to cybersecurity. School districts can proactively collect data to learn where their needs lie, what teachers want, and how they can best meet them. It is far better to start collecting this data early than to wait until it is too late.
Consider this: schools can either invest now or pay a lot more in the short term. If a school or district falls victim to ransomware, they will have to pay both to fix the immediate crisis and for cybersecurity upgrades, which will have gone unbudgeted and will leave them reeling long after the attack. ‘attack. Education standards change and priorities must change with them.
Justin Reilly is the CEO of Impero Software, which provides a virtual private network solution for schools and also serves more than half of the Fortune 100. This expert opinion is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.
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