Oct 19 2021

vCISOs Eliminate Cybersecurity Staffing Gaps for Vulnerable K–12 Districts

Virtual CISOs can help schools achieve their cybersecurity goals and strengthen network protections.

Cybersecurity professionals are in high demand. Employers in all industries are looking for security experts to help them protect valuable data in their systems. For K–12 institutions, it is frequently the personally identifiable information of minors that needs protection. Student addresses, health records and Social Security numbers are just some examples of the information bad actors could access in a successful cyberattack.

Cyberthreats against schools are becoming more prevalent, and while districts are realizing the severity of these threats, many struggle to fund or fill a full-time CISO position. Virtual CISOs can help districts close the gaps.

District leaders can access vCISOs as a resource when needed without having to retain a full-time staff member. These security experts can identify operational inefficiencies and reduce any risks the district may be unknowingly facing, helping to avoid a breach and saving the district a lot of money. As the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency begins its review of the cybersecurity threats facing K–12 districts, working with a vCISO may help school leaders be proactive about the guidelines CISA is developing.

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A vCISO can offer guidance to improve the maturity and scope of a district’s cybersecurity model and advise school leaders on their organization’s security strategy and planning initiatives.

How Can vCISOs Help Districts Improve Their Security Strategies?

Virtual CISOs can help schools strengthen their cybersecurity posture in several ways. Bad actors are finding smarter and more advanced pathways to target school districts, but vCISOs have up-to-date knowledge of these constantly evolving threats.

With this information, vCISOs can strategically guide IT administrators and district leaders on what they need to do to fortify their networks and protect important data.

It’s important for school districts to mitigate their cybersecurity risks not only to protect student data but also to ensure they’re meeting necessary compliance requirements. Most ransomware and threat insurance providers require that schools meet a certain level of compliance when it comes to their security posture. If a school hasn’t updated a system or patched a vulnerability and then becomes the victim of an attack, the cyber insurance company won’t be able to help.

DIVE DEEPER: Grade your cybersecurity preparedness with this exclusive checklist.

Written premiums for stand-alone cyber coverage increased by 29 percent in 2020 as firms of all sizes clamored for insurance protection in the face of a substantial increase in network intrusions, data theft and ransomware incidents over the past two years. The broad shift to remote work at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with increased intrusions from phishing emails, left all industries more exposed.

Districts also need to comply with the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Cybersecurity Framework. NIST has a checklist and other resources on its website, and a vCISO can consult with schools to ensure they are in compliance.

Cybersecurity Is Important in Every Learning Environment

With the shift to remote learning, education saw a surge in cyberattacks and an increase in infamy for schools that were successfully targeted. Although many students are back in the classroom, now is not the time to relax cybersecurity protocols. Attacks are evolving to target K–12 institutions just as quickly as before, not to mention the malware students could be bringing onto a school network after operating outside of the traditional security parameters.

The threats can also be internal — curious students trying to bypass security barriers, for example. IT professionals in the schools need visibility into all of this activity so they can shut it down and keep their systems secure.


The percentage of organizations that said cybersecurity training and awareness programs had a positive impact

Source: isaca.org, “Navigating the 2021 Cyberthreat Landscape,” July 27, 2021

Bad actors can access a school’s network from any system that’s online, no matter how menial it may seem. vCISOs recognize this and can offer guidance and expertise on how schools can address these possible avenues into their systems.

Each school district is on a unique cybersecurity journey with no one-size-fits-all solution. Without a dedicated information security expert on staff, it can be daunting for K–12 teams to determine their readiness for an attack or the status of their cybersecurity posture if they have been breached. A vCISO can provide valuable insight, allowing district leaders to assess the risks and make necessary updates to strengthen their systems. Because it’s not a matter of if a district gets hit by a cyberattack — it’s when.

This article is part of the “ConnectIT: Bridging the Gap Between Education and Technology” series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using the #ConnectIT hashtag.

[title]Connect IT: Bridging the Gap Between Education and Technology

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