6 Best Practices for K-12 Cybersecurity: Actions Every School District Should Take Right Now for Optimal Protection


K-12 School Districts are more vulnerable to cybersecurity attacks than ever before.

Ransomware Gangs are becoming more sophisticated and aggressive. Most of them are now operating in a Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS) model, with some of these RaaS Operators leveraging up to a hundred “affiliates” each. Instead of focusing on just a few victims, one group can now target hundreds of organizations at the same time. This means that any district – regardless of size or location – is now much more likely to be attacked. And school districts are a common target. They have a lot of publicly available contact information (e.g. student and staff email addresses and phone numbers) and a large attack surface. Today, cybercriminals focus on more than just larger, high-profile school districts in big cities. Small districts are targeted just as often. Bad actors cast a wide net, and unprepared districts may end up with a breached network, putting the sensitive information of students and staff at risk.

But there's hope! There are actions that your school district can take today to begin to close the security gaps in your network. This list is not exhaustive, but it's a starting point to protect your district from cybersecurity threats.

Here are a few cybersecurity best practices for K-12 school districts:

Use real-time monitoring and alerting

If you take one thing away from this list, it should be this: real-time alerting and monitoring is essential to protect your district's network. Once your network is actively monitored, you'll start to get a picture of your network security. Alerts will quickly let you know if there's any suspicious or anomalous activity. From there, you can identify security risks and vulnerabilities. You'll be able to take action and close gaps in your network before it's too late.

Enable secure authentication

secure authentication

This practice, commonly known as Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA), requires an extra step to allow users to log in. It could be as simple as a text or email code, but we would recommend trusted resources such as Microsoft or Google authentication. This will provide critical extra protection. Some users might be annoyed at first by the extra step to log in, but they’ll get used to it. And it will keep your student and staff accounts secure!

Update appropriate security settings

Not all users need access to all levels of your network. It’s best to adhere to the Principle of Least Privilege (PoLP), assigning minimal access controls to each user. PoLP means that a user should only have access to the specific data, resources, and applications they need to complete their tasks. For example, students do not need access to platforms for teachers, or the admin database that holds records and other sensitive data. Without these security settings, a compromised login would be catastrophic. Bad actors would be only a few clicks away from accessing sensitive data and wreaking havoc.

Implement Network Segmentation

After you’ve applied a PoLP strategy, begin to segment your network. Determine which users need access to what information and apply group policy controls, network file system access and firewall rules to limit lateral movement within the system. Focus on protecting your most critical assets if your defenses fail: the sensitive information of your students and staff.

Upgrade and update all systems

New updates contain valuable patches to keep your systems secure from new threats. Frequently check for updates and keep your operating systems, browsers, apps and firmware up to date. Securus360 offers regularly scheduled vulnerability scans to identify these necessary updates and outdated systems that leave gaps in your security posture.

Train teachers, staff and students

One of the most common ways cybercriminals gain access to your network is through compromised login credentials. Your students and staff must be educated in common phishing techniques. Provide Security Awareness Training (SAT) to all students, staff, and even senior administrators. Even parents should complete an SAT program if they are logging into your network. Securus360 offers SAT that is tailored for K-12 school districts.

This list can be overwhelming, but it doesn't need to be done all at once. After you begin real-time monitoring and alerts, you can tackle the rest of the list based upon your district's specific needs. You will harden your internal infrastructure and network against attack as you check each item off the list.

Even though cyberattacks against K-12 school districts are more frequent than ever, with the right tools in place you can measurably improve the security of your network. And with Securus360, you always have a focused, K-12 cybersecurity partner in your corner.

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