K-12 Cybersecurity: 4 Steps to Avoid a Ransomware Attack (And Cost-Effectively Ensure Data Resilience)

JUNE 22ND, 2023

By Ahsan Siddiqui, Director of Product Management, Arcserve 

Cybersecurity is the number one concern for EdTech leaders, according to the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) 2023 State of EdTech Leadership survey. If you’re an IT pro responsible for keeping your school or district’s data secure, you have plenty of good reasons to worry. 

The 2023 SonicWall Cyber Threat Report found that malware attacks on K-12 institutions and primary schools jumped by 323 percent. But that’s nothing compared to the report’s findings on ransomware, which skyrocketed at an “absolutely massive” rate of 827 percent over the previous year.

Schools also face competing obligations. You must ensure you comply with regulations requiring student and school data to be kept private. And many states, like Florida and California, have passed laws that protect student information. At the same time, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) requires that you provide parents access to their children’s educational records within 45 days of receiving a request.

Meeting these competing obligations demands that your K-12 school or district have a reliable backup solution that secures student information and provides quick and easy access to requested data. If your school hasn’t taken this step yet, the statistics we’ve shared should provide plenty of motivation for you and the administrative leaders you work with to find a way to put a solution in place immediately. 

Your school or district, like many, may have limited resources to invest in data protection. That’s why you need to embrace new strategies for protecting student data. 

Here are four steps to help you get there.

1. Build a Culture of Security Awareness

Start by educating your staff and students regarding cybersecurity best practices. You also need to promote a culture of security awareness by conducting regular training sessions and distributing reminders. Training should cover how to identify and respond to potential threats, like phishing emails, choosing strong passwords, and avoiding suspicious websites. It’s also important to discuss past security incidents and how everyone can do their part to prevent future incidents.  

If possible, work with internal and external security experts to keep your processes and protections up to date. That includes conducting regular risk assessments to identify vulnerabilities and then taking measures to fix them. A comprehensive set of processes, policies, standards, and technology tools that enforce those standards will help you build a more robust security culture.

2. Embrace Zero Trust

Zero trust is a security concept that assumes all users, devices, and networks are untrusted until proven otherwise. Zero trust dictates that you only offer users access when authenticated and only for as long as the access is granted. 

Your students should only be granted access to the specific resources they need to complete their tasks and nothing more. For example, when students need to access their grades or class schedule, the zero-trust model grants them access exclusively to that information. Once the student has completed their task, their access is immediately revoked.

By employing zero trust, you can limit your attack surfaces, minimizing potential entry points for malicious actors. And by granting the minimum necessary permissions, your school or district can ensure sensitive information stays secure.

3. Use Data Tiering to Protect Your Most Sensitive Data (and Cut Costs)

Data tiering involves storing data based on its importance and how frequently it’s used. If your school is on a tight budget—like most—you can save money by using data tiering to move less critical and infrequently accessed data to lower-cost storage options.

When you manage your data using this approach, you can reduce the amount of storage you need to buy and maintain and minimize the computing power required to store and access the data. By following good data hygiene practices, you can keep your data well organized to ensure you’re not storing duplicate data. This reduces the amount of valuable storage space you need and the resources you consume. You can be confident you’re focusing your cybersecurity efforts on protecting your most sensitive data, too

4. Conduct Regular Risk Assessments

Like every organization worldwide, your school or district constantly faces new threats. But with limited human and technical resources, you may not even know if your existing cybersecurity measures will combat those threats. That’s where regular risk assessments can help you pinpoint potential security threats and determine how prepared you are to defend against them.

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) offers a School Security Assessment Tool (SSAT) to help you keep up with the latest threats while ensuring compliance with data privacy regulations

Talk to a Ransomware Expert

Arcserve technology partners offer the cybersecurity experience and expertise that can help you ensure your school's or district’s data is always protected and available. Get the guidance you need by choosing an Arcserve partner here. To learn more about Arcserve products, request a demo