The digitization of education has meant that efforts to ensure data security have become imperative in recent years. Yet, much remains to be done in improving technologies and training K-12 staff.

The emerging technologies in this niche are hard to pin down. They are evolving rapidly, and cash-strapped districts often find it hard to keep up with the latest trends and techniques. It is hardly any wonder that K-12 education is subject to more malicious cyberattacks than most industries.

Education’s biggest cybersecurity threat lies in its untrained staff and students who inadvertently click on links they aren’t supposed to and share information that puts entire districts at the highest risk of an attack.

Faculty, administrators, and students need proper coaching on how to identify malicious links and phishing emails so that they can avoid them. Many times, people are not aware of a breach until it’s too late. Valuable information, like addresses, social security numbers or school records, are already in the hands of the hackers by this point.

As early as 2016, Verizon’s report stated that the education sector faced high risks and ranked sixth for the total number of reported “security incidents.” This was reiterated by the FBI in 2018 when it warned that U.S. schools are facing an even higher risk of cybersecurity attacks. A 2018 SecurityScorecard report placed schools last among major industries for cybersecurity performance.

Schools are soft targets for cybercriminals because they store a lot of personally identifiable data that can be sold for thousands of dollars. In 2018, the K-12 sector reported close to 122 cybersecurity incidents, but many more went either unreported or unidentified.

However, all schools are at risk. When it comes to cybersecurity, more affluent districts are at the highest risk. The data stored at these schools is predominately stored digitally, so it is of more interest to cybercriminals.

Hackers often use the district’s own system commit crimes and hacks. We also hear the ominous term ransomware, which is a particular favorite of hackers worldwide. In such cases, they breach a K-12 public school system and hold it at ransom. Districts have to pay them a “ransom” to have the hackers take the malware off the computers.

Higher ed systems are under attack as well, but since their transition to digital began much earlier, they have made some real headways into cybersecurity. K-12 can learn from the lessons and the best practices developed in this regard.

Sometimes, increasing security and installing firewalls are not enough. Personal devices used by students and faculty increase the vulnerable endpoints. They also use these same devices to connect to home networks, which are not always secure.

Cybersecurity education programs are therefore crucial to avoid breaches and apply quick fixes until an IT professional can take care of the larger issue. These programs will go a long way to instill the best security habits into K-12 staff, students, and even parents.