Why cybersecurity in schools and colleges should be a top priority

There is a worrying trend of educators lagging behind their students in the field of IT knowledge. A study by YouGov asked 348 head teachers, deputy heads and teachers across the UK, and nearly half confessed to knowing less about modern IT trends and innovations than their students. Furthermore, 26% said their school was lacking in even the most basic of cybersecurity measures.

Cybercriminals have recently begun targeting vulnerabilities in organisations like the NHS, so the threat to schools and colleges from online criminals simply cannot be ignored (Check out this article on BBC news from May 2018 for a prime example).

How can schools and colleges leverage the many benefits of new educational technologies without becoming a hacker’s next target? The fundamental principle is in accepting that change is necessary. In this article, we discuss why cybersecurity in schools and colleges should be a top priority.

A changing environment

In 2016, there was a revision to the government’s statutory guidance legislation Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE). Establishments must now go all out to ensure there are appropriate monitoring systems and content filters, and that children cannot access any harmful or inappropriate material using educational ICT systems. The online environment is continually changing, so it can be hard to keep up with these requirements alone and in-house. It’s a daunting prospect, but if education providers aren’t swift to take significant actions now, they will fall further and further behind.

Understanding the threats

Cybercriminals generally operate by either casting a wide net or targeting vulnerable sectors. In either case, schools and colleges are under threat as years of government cuts and struggling to juggle budgets have led to a lack of the protection necessary to withstand a sophisticated attack. Combine this with scores of curious, digitally-able children in the equation, it seems inevitable that schools and colleges will eventually face attacks.

The threat to schools and colleges falls under three broad headings: content (accessing inappropriate material), contact (cyberbullying, grooming and identity theft), and conduct (digital reputation, privacy, copyright and wellbeing).

Students using their own devices to connect to school networks, and teachers embracing remote working, is convenient in many ways, but it also means more access routes for cybercriminals. Schools and colleges need to ensure sensitive material can be moved securely between devices and locations without blocking access to important content for those involved.

The answer

The solution to the problem lies in increasing the awareness of both staff and students about basic cybersecurity. Training of staff and monitoring of student activity are relatively easy to implement, they help empower teachers and provide extra protection for students. Improved cybersecurity in schools and colleges doesn’t have to be an enormous undertaking, but it is a necessary one – you wouldn’t allow random strangers to walk into school buildings, so why leave the door open online?

Cybersecurity in schools and colleges – where to find out more

If you would some help with your cybersecurity plan for your school or college, please get in touch with us to discuss how we may help.