Cyberthreats Against Schools
As the calendar turns to another school year in 2023, the education landscape is evolving rapidly, with technology playing an increasingly pivotal role in the learning process. Especially on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic, and with the resurgence of new mutations, the possibility of remote education still playing a prevalent role going forward is certainly on the table.
While this digital transformation towards increased virtual learning has brought immense benefits, it has also opened the door to an increased threat of cyberattacks. And although the Biden administration has attempted to talk tough on making cybersecurity a higher priority matter, to put it simply, they have not done nearly enough, as already in 2023, 48 school districts have been hit by ransomware attacks, which is three more than in all of 2022.
As a result of these attacks, sensitive data that includes medical records, psychiatric evaluations, and sexual assault reports have been compromised. To ensure a safe and secure learning environment for the 2023-2024 school year, institutions, parents, and students must join forces to protect themselves from cyberthreats.
Over the past several years, our educational institutions had become prime targets for cybercriminals. Whether it's a K-12 school, a college campus, or a remote online learning platform, all have been susceptible to various forms of cyberattacks.
The consequences of a successful breach can be devastating, not only compromising sensitive student and staff data, but also disrupting the learning process itself. Therefore, it is imperative that schools take proactive measures to safeguard their digital infrastructure.
One obvious way schools can address this is by prioritizing cybersecurity education and training for both students and staff. Cybersecurity should be integrated into the curriculum earlier, especially as elementary school aged children are seemingly handling online devices at younger ages than ever before.
Similarly, teachers and administrative staff must receive regular training to stay updated on the latest cyberthreats and best practices for prevention and response. By empowering the entire school community with knowledge and awareness, America can create a culture of cybersecurity that acts as a strong defense at the local level.
Moreover, schools should invest in robust cybersecurity systems and protocols. This includes regularly updating and patching software, employing firewalls and intrusion detection systems, and implementing strong password policies. Encryption should be used to protect sensitive data, and access controls should be in place to ensure that only authorized individuals can access certain information. Regular security audits and vulnerability assessments are essential to identifying and addressing weaknesses in the system before cybercriminals exploit them.
Parents also play a crucial role in protecting their children from cyberthreats. In an era where students are increasingly using personal devices for remote learning, parents must take steps to secure these devices and educate their children about online safety. Here are some key steps parents can take:
Set clear boundaries: Establish rules for screen time and online activities. Ensure that children understand the importance of not sharing personal information online and the potential consequences of doing so.
Use parental control software: Install parental control software on devices to monitor and restrict access to certain websites and apps. These tools can help parents keep a close eye on their children's online activities.
Educate children: Talk to your children about the risks of cyberbullying, online predators, and email phishing scams. Encourage open communication so that they feel comfortable reporting any suspicious online behavior.
Secure devices: Ensure that all devices used for remote learning are kept up to date with the latest security patches and have strong, unique passwords. Teach children about the importance of strong passwords and two-factor authentication.
Lead by example: Be a positive role model for your children when it comes to online behavior. Show them how to use the internet responsibly and safely.
Students, too, have a responsibility to protect themselves from cyberthreats. In an era where digital literacy is as important as traditional literacy, students must take an active role in safeguarding their online presence. Here are some steps students can take:
Practice good password hygiene: Create strong, unique passwords for all online accounts and consider using a reputable password manager to keep track of them.
Beware of phishing: Be cautious of unsolicited emails, messages, or links from unknown sources. Verify the authenticity of messages before clicking on any links or sharing personal information.
Keep software updated: Regularly update the operating system and software on your devices to patch vulnerabilities that cybercriminals could exploit.
Secure your social media: Review and adjust privacy settings on social media accounts to limit what information is visible to the public. Avoid sharing personal information that could be used against you.
Report suspicious activity: If you encounter cyberbullying, harassment, or other forms of online threats, report them to a trusted adult or school authority. Reporting such incidents is crucial to stopping them and protecting others.
In conclusion, the 2023 school year brings with it unprecedented opportunities for learning and growth, but it also carries new challenges in the form of cyberthreats, both domestic and from overseas. To protect the future of education and ensure a safe and secure learning environment, schools, parents, and students must work together. Schools must invest in cybersecurity education and robust security systems, parents must educate and protect their children online, and students must become responsible digital citizens. Only by joining forces and taking proactive measures can we navigate the digital landscape safely and ensure that the pursuit of knowledge remains unimpeded by cyberthreats.
Julio Rivera is a business and political strategist, cybersecurity researcher, Editorial Director for Reactionary Times, and a political commentator and columnist. His writing, which is focused on cybersecurity and politics, has been published by many of the most respected news organizations in the world.