2020 has been the year of remote learning, which means more digitalization. It also means new security challenges for K–12 students. Thousands of users are using cloud-based applications such as Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, Google Classroom, and Zoom.

The high volume of users and greater network demands lead to regular technical issues that teachers and schools have to overcome. But these are issues that, albeit annoying, can be handled. More sinister is the fact that it has created a new way for cybercriminals to strike.

There are reasons for heightened concerns about cybersecurity. But teaching internet safety to teenagers is vastly different from teaching elementary school kids to be safe. Schools and teachers need to build cyber safety lessons into the school day.

IT teams have to update their cybersecurity strategies continually. It will help protect those accessing cloud technology and data inside and outside the district network. They must look at specific circumstances beyond meeting federal privacy requirements.

Many schools have faced cyberattacks that halted remote learning. There have been incidents of spurious hacks and the release of sensitive information. These have resulted in breaches, halted remote learning, and postponed of classes.

K-12 school administrators and IT leaders should work together to address these vulnerabilities. One way to ensure student and system security is to strengthen internal systems and infrastructure.

It is easy to say, but hard to execute. People are on multiple networks now instead of having everyone on one network. Unsecured networks and personal devices are accessing district cloud environments. They are using and sharing sensitive school data from home.

Each of those has its vulnerabilities, and with trained people not there to double-check, chances of an increase in fraud attacks are high. This is different from on-premises security options like firewalls, content filters, and MTAs. Therefore, cybersecurity strategies need to evolve and consider the new threats.

Administrators and teachers can help students navigate safely by teaching them some basic rules:

  • Cover webcams when not in use
  • Use a neutral background that does not reveal any personal details
  • Teach kids how to pick a good password or use a password management tool
  • Define phishing attacks and scams in simple language to them
  • Teach kids not to share personal information online without asking a parent first

It won’t be easy for young kids to follow and get it right every time, but it’s a start. IT teams need to implement enhanced security solutions like multi-factor authentication tools. That way, even if passwords are exposed, hacks will be limited.

Traditional phishing and malware threats aren’t going away, but now hackers see new opportunities to target schools. Using the cloud at home means teachers, students, and even administrators are unknowingly bringing malware back into the district environment. Microsoft has reported over 5.9 million malware incidents across the education industry in just the last month.

There is a high risk of student endangerment. There is also a risk of sensitive personal data — social security numbers, credit card numbers, home addresses, etc. being exposed. K-12 districts are more vulnerable now, and IT teams and security experts must adapt to keep up.