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The Value of Knowing Your School's Security Weaknesses

Don Wisdom

Don Wisdom About The Author

Jan 2

Many schools in California are rolling out “one-to-one” computing initiatives, to supplement existing policies of bring your own device (BYOD) programs to advance digital curriculum in K-12.

These changes provide amazing educational opportunities for students and staff alike, but introduce new challenges. One of the most pressing is ensuring security while more than doubling the endpoints involved.

We believe that intelligence and visibility are powerful, particularly when it comes to cyber-security threats and the defense against them. K-12 schools are particularly vulnerable targets because they have transient and often novice populations. Today’s students are digital natives who are very savvy with networks and devices; in many cases more than school administrators or even IT staff.

Unfortunately, security of local infrastructure is not a concern for most students, and K-12 environments have earned a reputation as "soft targets." Ransomware criminals are able to take advantage of simple weaknesses in policies, software, or network architecture.

Research consultant Doug Levin of EdTech Strategies put together a K-12 Cyber-Incident Map, which graphically illustrates the impact of cyber incidents around the country.

As K-12 schools increase their reliance on digital devices, the number of cyber incidents has grown exponentially. Between Jan 01, 2016 through the end of 2017, there has been a 100% increase in publicly disclosed cyber incidents, no doubt a fraction of all incidents taking place. (Source: THEJournal.com)

The following areas represent some common fields of attack by cyber-criminals. Cyber-attacks come in many different forms in K-12 environments. No single security product will keep a K-12 campus safe; a "defense in depth" security approach is required to ensure the greatest protection.

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Any successful approach to security should incorporate a detailed review and assessment of one’s present and ongoing security posture. Security solutions, both hardware and software, can be expensive and drain scarce resources from other key areas like wireless infrastructure or digital textbooks. The most important first step is to understand where the largest risks are to potential data-theft or cyber-attacks.

This report usually starts with a review of the campus IT infrastructure design and polices in place, including a complete vulnerability scan of devices in the network (especially publicly exposed ones), along with a review of permissions, policies, password and users.

Both types of scans return valuable information as to what areas are potentially the biggest risks. An overall security score to measure risk will be generated. Once the raw data is gathered and reviewed, a summary report is sent to administration and technical staff that details the following:

  • (1) overall risk score
  • (2) estimated potential losses from an attack (both financial and reputation)
  • (3) critical areas to address immediately
  • (4) estimated labor/cost to remediate and address security issues.
  • (4) update of data-center/network design if required.
  • (5) Update/Creation of Campus network security plan

The report, if it is based on real data and is concise and action oriented, will get the attention of Administration. K-12 IT managers will find that this is the best way to procure resources and "buy-in" to secure the most vulnerable areas within the IT environment.

 Next Week:  How to properly secure a multi-vendor cloud environment

Datalink Networks is committed to helping educators keep their data safe. That's why we're offering to perform a network vulnerability scan AT NO COST TO YOU.  Find out more and schedule your free assessment now.

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  • Network Design/Topology Review
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