1. Ensure Staff and Students Are “Cyber Aware”
Though breaches perpetrated by outside threat actors often grab the headlines, threats originating from the inside can be much more difficult to prevent and defend against.
A recent Government Accountability Office study of 287 school districts affected by data breaches found most incidents involving K–12 institutions were caused by staff or students, whether “accidental or intentional.” Of the 99 reported breaches, the federal watchdog said cybercriminals were responsible for just six of the hacks.
These findings are corroborated by those of the SolarWinds survey. Only 46 percent of the respondents cited the general hacking community as their top threat.
This is why educational institutions must work on building their security culture to ensure students, staff and administrators are “cyber aware.” Knowing how to identify and report a phishing email, practicing password hygiene and not sharing passwords – which has, unfortunately, become a common practice as the use of collaboration and cloud software has proliferated in recent months – and other basic security practices can make a significant difference in the posture of any school.
2. Prioritize and Secure Endpoints
Endpoint protection has always been a fundamental security practice, but as the network perimeter expands to include home networks, it’s now crucial.
Unfortunately, due to budget constraints, school systems have struggled in this area. Only 45 percent of education sector respondents ranked their schools highly for their endpoint protection capabilities, according to the SolarWinds survey.
To address this shortfall while managing their limited budgets, administrators should consider prioritizing high-risk systems or assets, such as data stores or servers, and apply sophisticated endpoint detection to alert them of potential threats. If a violation of the school’s security policies is detected, automated actions can quickly contain threats before sensitive data is compromised.
If budget remains an issue, schools can also leverage existing technology investments —such as security capabilities in Windows, Chromebooks and their cloud-based software investments — to enhance protection across lower-risk assets.
3. Segment Users on the School’s Network
Network segmentation is an important strategy for mitigating the risk of a bad actor breaching a student or faculty device and moving laterally across school networks to access sensitive data. Technologies such as software-defined networking (SDN) simplify this process. They make it easier for IT professionals to specify permissions that quickly enforce segmentation at scale and isolate the student network from the staff network. SDN also makes it easier to gather data from the network to detect traffic anomalies that could indicate malicious activity.
An important side benefit of SDN is its ability to improve network performance, since connected devices are only competing with those on the network segment. Thus, they aren’t vying for bandwidth against an enormous pool of other resources.