What K-12 Education Leaders Need to Know About Keeping Your District Secure: A Total Guide to K-12 Cybersecurity


K-12 Districts are #1 Cybercrime Targets

Around the world, public and private organizations of every shape and size face unprecedented levels of cyber threats by a wide range of criminal organizations, state-backed hackers, and opportunistic individuals. Despite the wide array of attack types and industries involved, no industry is suffering as badly as the Education sector. 

Some of the most high-profile Education cyberattack victims in the past year include the Minneapolis PSD, Rochester Public Schools, the Los Angeles Unified School District, and many more. These attacks have resulted in weeks of school missed for students, millions of dollars in damages, and the irreparable damage caused by stolen and leaked student and staff data. 

For every high-profile cyber threat incident that becomes hot topic in your district, there are many more devastating cyber exploitation events that are never published or acknowledged by their victims. 

So what are some K-12 Education cybersecurity stats?

  • 42% of Schools Have Students or Staff that Circumvent Cybersecurity Protections 
  • Since 2019, cybersecurity incidents involving malware deployment have increased by 358% overall, and ransomware increased by 435% 
  • Educational Records can go for up to $265 per record on the Black Market
  • 87% of Educational Establishments Have Experienced at Least One Successful Cyberattack
  • Upwards of 59% of K-12 districts do not have a cybersecurity plan in place, and around 77% do not have a full-time employee dedicated to cybersecurity

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The Top Cybersecurity Challenges Facing K-12 School Districts

Budget Cuts
K-12 schools are facing budget cuts across the board, and cybersecurity is no exception. With these budget cuts, schools often must make tough choices about where to allocate funding and, unfortunately, cybersecurity may not be at the top of the list. This means that schools may not be able to afford the latest security technologies or hire dedicated cybersecurity staff to monitor their systems. 

Limited Resources
Another key cybersecurity challenge that K-12 schools face is limited staffing resources. Many schools struggle with having the necessary staffing to implement effective security measures. This can lead to gaps in protection, making schools more vulnerable to attacks. 

Legacy Systems
Legacy systems are another challenge facing K-12 schools in terms of cybersecurity. These are outdated computer systems that are no longer supported by manufacturers and are difficult to update or maintain. Legacy systems are often the weakest link in a network’s infrastructure, as they lack the latest security features and are vulnerable to attacks. 

Increase in Access Points
With the proliferation of mobile devices, the number of access points in K-12 schools has increased significantly. These access points include smartphones, tablets, and laptops. While these access points provide convenience and connectivity, they also present significant security risks. 

Changing Compliance Requirements
In recent years, there has been a significant shift in cybersecurity compliance regulations, impacting K-12 schools. Education institutions are required to adhere to regulations set by the Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), among others. Compliance regulations are regularly updated to adapt to emerging cyber threats, but unfortunately, K-12 schools may struggle to keep up with these changes.

There are always new and developing cyber threats against K-12 school districts. We rely on the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) as a valuable resource for much of this developing information, and we encourage you do to the same. To read more about key cybersecurity issues defined by CoSN, click here.

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Who is Targeting K-12 School Districts, and Why?

The criminal organizations engaged with cybercrime are motivated by a wide range of profit-seeking and ideological motivations. They are willing to do whatever they possibly can to compromise your district's digital defenses, utilizing the sensitive student and staff data you work so hard to protect for their own benefit. 

Crimeware-as-a-Service (CaaS) has emerged as a highly lucrative opportunity for individuals with leading information security skill sets. Many of the most active hacking syndicates in the world have utilized advanced affiliate programs to increase criminal activity and spread their reach worldwide. Malware variants such as Cring, REvil, Maze, Ryuk, XORIST, and Thanos are being used alongside openly available hacking tools such as GameOverZeus and Cobalt Strike to unleash havoc on school districts worldwide. 

What Cybersecurity Defense System is Best for You?

Endpoint detection and response (EDR) and extended detection and response (XDR) are the two most popular security solutions used today. EDR helps detect, investigate, and mitigate potential cyber threats by monitoring endpoint devices, such as laptops, desktops, and mobile devices.

XDR is an extension of EDR that combines data from various sources, including endpoints, network traffic, and cloud services, to provide a more comprehensive view of the security posture to identify potential cyberattacks. Both EDR and XDR solutions offer many benefits, including improved threat detection, faster incident response, and increased visibility into security events. However, they are not foolproof, and there are limitations to their capabilities.

These limitations have led to the emergence of a new security solution known as Managed eXtended Detection and Response (MXDR), which fills the gap left by EDR and XDR solutions.

What is MXDR?

MXDR is a comprehensive security solution that improves cybersecurity posture by providing a complete view of an entire infrastructure. It combines the capabilities of both EDR and XDR, filling the gaps that these solutions leave behind. It's a complete security solution that offers 24/7/365 security monitoring, threat hunting and detection as well as incident response. MXDR enables organizations to detect and respond to cyber threats in real-time, without having to spend large amounts of energy and resources. To learn more about MXDR, click here.

What is the Next Step in Cybersecurity for Education Leaders?

There are a few first steps that are paramount to a school districts success in defending from cyber threats. The first step should be to implement a cybersecurity program. A successful cybersecurity program consists of 3 components: policy, education, and monitoring.

Policy – The starting point in developing an effective cybersecurity program is to develop a cybersecurity policy. A cybersecurity policy is a roadmap that documents the behavioral and technical guidelines for all staff and students to ensure maximum protection against any cybersecurity incident. The policy document details security policies, procedures, technology safeguards and includes an incident response plan that is implemented in the event of a cybersecurity incident.

Education – One of the most critical components of a comprehensive cybersecurity program is ensuring staff and students are educated on current cybersecurity best practices. A comprehensive training program teaches everyone the responsibilities of protecting sensitive data, how to securely interact online, recognize potential phishing threats and the importance of effective password management. The education program focuses on creating a culture of security adoption. Key training topics include password management, multi-factor authorization, phishing, social engineering, safe browsing, and mobile security. The success of a cybersecurity program comes down to staff and students understanding the importance of protecting sensitive data.

Monitoring – Monitoring is essential due to the continually changing cyber threat landscape. A successful cybersecurity program requires consistent monitoring and maintenance to stay ahead of cybercriminals. Ongoing monitoring helps to detect threats before they can do damage. Monitoring identifies vulnerabilities in your network and can update systems to help ensure compliance with required standards and regulations.

K-12 decision-makers can strengthen their school’s cybersecurity posture for maximum protection against the onslaught of ever evolving cyberattacks that are focused on the students and staff of schools across the United States and abroad by working with a trusted partner to develop, implement and manage a cybersecurity program.

The Securus360 Response

Securus360 is focused exclusively on the K-12 education space and has developed a proven cybersecurity approach that is deployed at schools across the United States. The Securus360 Managed eXtended Detection & Response (MXDR) platform provides comprehensive protection against cyberattacks, including: detailed and ongoing vulnerability assessments, 24/7/365 real-time threat hunting, monitoring & detection, automated incident response and hybrid intelligence-based security analytics that combine Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) with human cybersecurity analysts to ensure maximum alert accuracy.

To learn more contact Securus360 to schedule a time to speak with a cybersecurity expert.

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