5 Ways to Improve Cybersecurity in Schools
As we talked about in part 1 of this piece, the issue of cybersecurity in schools is significant—and doesn’t seem to be getting better.
So what steps can individual parents and concerned adults take to address such a huge problem?
Here are 5 things you can do to help make schools more secure:
Do Your Homework
Start by trying to get the lay of the land and to understand the larger issues at play—before you go to school officials or politicians. Does your school district or state already have a digital privacy and security policy, and have you read it? What sorts of cyberattacks affect schools most frequently, and how can they be prevented? And can you articulate the financial impact of cyberattacks on schools? Having a basic command of the relevant facts and figures will ultimately make you a much more persuasive spokesperson for school cybersecurity.
Strength in Numbers
Get other parents and concerned citizens involved. You can start by sharing an article on the issue of cybersecurity in schools, or by asking other parents and community members if they’re aware of the seriousness of the issue. You’ll need their help, because unfortunately, a single person sending emails to the school or the district is just too easy to ignore. But a group of parents (and voters) presenting their concerns in one voice tends to grab the attention of the powers that be.
Sock it to the PTA
If you discover that your local school hasn’t trained staff and faculty to help them deal with common dangers like phishing attacks or weak passwords, bring it up at the next parent-teacher meeting. Remember that the vast majority of cyberattacks on schools exploit human error and lack of knowledge, so focus on simple, actionable steps—and remember not to make the perfect the enemy of the good. Some basic training in cybersecurity best practices will go a long way to making schools safer.
Take it to the District
While improving cybersecurity in individual schools is important, many decisions affecting security and privacy are made at the district level. Your local school may not have much say over its data security policy or the software products and student management systems it’s required to use. If you have concerns, learn how to work with school board officials and then attend public meetings (ideally with a group of parents) to make your case for better cybersecurity districtwide.
If you find your school district unresponsive, or if you’d simply like to see your efforts yield greater results, consider taking the matter to your state’s elected representatives. A bi-partisan bill passed in Texas this year provides a good example of how cybersecurity legislation looks in practice. The Texas law requires all school districts statewide to implement a cybersecurity policy, designate a cybersecurity coordinator, and conduct reporting and disclosure of cyberattacks to both parents and state agencies. Remember, state legislators are often more willing to meet with constituents than their counterparts in the federal government, and are surprisingly open to suggestions that will generate positive publicity…and save tax dollars.
The issue of cyberattacks on schools is alarming precisely because it seems so overwhelming, and also because it affects those who are least able to protect themselves: kids. But the good news is that there is something that we as parents and citizens can do: Get involved, raise awareness of the issue, and demand concrete action from our elected officials.