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Guarding Our School’s Digital Future: One Byte at a Time

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

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By Dr. Jim Roberts

As a superintendent, I am always concerned about safety and security. Traditionally, that has meant protecting our students and staff members from physical harm. Unfortunately, now, it includes something that might not be on everyone’s radar but is crucial in today's digital age: the protection of computer data in K-12 schools. Just as we lock our classroom doors and set alarms for our schools, we need to secure our digital spaces. Think about it: schools are treasure troves of sensitive information. From student records to faculty details, all of it is vulnerable without the right protection.

First and foremost, tackling this behemoth requires a team approach. We can't leave cybersecurity to a single person. Creating a leadership task force is essential. This should include the sharpest minds in our school community: technology directors, network administrators, system administrators. These are the folks that understand the intricate details of our school’s digital backbone and can devise a plan to safeguard it.

As we chart the course of securing our schools, we need to ensure support at all levels: hardware, software, people, and processes. It's like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle – all parts need to fit perfectly. And while doing so, we must ensure that our school environment remains just as welcoming and safe as before, not turning it into some high-security tech fortress that makes its use too cumbersome.

There is a lot to this effort and it sounds expensive. But here's the silver lining: there's help available. Schools can utilize state-funded grants to help invest in cybersecurity solutions like KnowBe4.  And trust me, this is an investment that promises significant returns, not just in terms of data safety but in the peace of mind of parents, staff, and students.

One of the best roadmaps to follow for this journey is the 18 CIS Critical Security Controls. These controls are a golden standard in cybersecurity, a comprehensive guide to building a robust infrastructure. By adhering to these, we're not just throwing on a security blanket; we're constructing a digital fortress, brick by brick.

And, let's not forget the human element in all this. No matter how strong our walls are, there's always the risk of someone inadvertently leaving the gate open. To prevent this, it's imperative to run email phishing campaigns to educate and test staff on how to recognize threats. Additionally, routine tabletop exercises can simulate potential security scenarios, ensuring that when (not if) a threat occurs, our team knows exactly what to do.

Without question, the digital era has brought countless blessings to our educational system. But with these benefits come risks. Hence, the importance of guarding our school’s digital future, one byte at a time!