Harris School Solutions

Cybersecurity Best Practices for K-12 Organizations

In the 2022-2023 Nationwide Cybersecurity Review for K-12, they detailed that one of the biggest challenges confronting K-12 organizations during cyberattacks is the lack of cybersecurity planning and awareness. As online threats evolve and become increasingly deceptive, it’s a top priority to implement robust cyber-defense measures to protect yourself and your organization. Technology can be a powerful tool for accomplishing your organization’s goals, but without prioritizing security your organization opens itself to becoming a victim to malicious actors.

Awareness

K-12 organizations hold the number one spot for ransomware attacks across all industries. A whopping 48% of overall ransomware attacks are happening within K-12 entities. Unfortunately, malicious threat actors aren’t just shutting down workstations but also targeting the highly confidential financial and personal information a school’s database holds. This not only puts your organization at risk, but those who have trusted you with their sensitive information.

If you don’t want to be a part of that 48% statistic, then it’s important to understand the risk landscape and allocate resources effectively towards impactful security measures and controls. Cyber-hygiene best practices will need to be put in place from the top down to ensure that every activity online or over a network will keep all confidential data secure.

The following are resources and practices to assess when building the foundation for your organization’s cybersecurity plan. Following these suggested measures, consistent information sharing, and training sessions are some of the best methods to make sure your users know how to use the protocols to keep your organization from becoming the next victim of a cyber-attack.

Annual Review of Certifications and User Access

This step is crucial to build a clear foundation for a cybersecurity plan to take shape. An annual review and recertification will ensure that all your existing users have a justified need for access to carry out their duties for a limited time frame. This is what is known as cybersecurity architecture’s principle of Least Privileged. If an employee has been promoted or changed departments, make sure to remove their access from previous responsibilities when adding new access to fit their role. This review narrows access points for hackers to exploit.

Passwords

In many cases, people can remain unaware that their passwords have been compromised for significant time periods. Implementing periodic password renewals is a big step in limiting hackers from spending too much time in accounts to wreak havoc. Always change any default password, including the passwords given after Wi-fi or internet has been newly set up. When implementing a periodic password-change process, set standards for higher character counts and the variety of characters required for a user’s password to be accepted (upper and lowercase letters, numbers, symbols, etc.).

As a user, dig a little deeper when creating passwords for your accounts. Step outside of names, birthdays, common sequential numbers, and anything else a hacker could easily guess or mine for information online. Don’t use the same password for every account and application across the board. Keep a secure log of your passwords to adjust to the variety and frequent changes. Using a trusted password manager is a great way to do this securely. One of the most crucial password best practices is to NEVER SHARE PASSWORDS. This includes sharing via word-of-mouth, emailing, texting, and instant messaging on social media or other communication platforms.

Email phishing is a common avenue for hackers to use when trying to access school systems. They will often pose as superiors or coworkers requiring your credentials. When you receive a suspicious email, always make sure to contact your IT or security department to ensure it is safe before interacting with it.

Multi-factor Authentication (MFA)

Now that you have honed your primary security measures, let’s look at adding the additional factor of verifying a user’s identity. Multi-factor Authentication (MFA) is a secondary method to confirm a user accessing the network is legitimate. It is a mechanism used in Cybersecurity Architecture to promote Defense in Depth.

A commonly used MFA method is number-matching. This works by sending an email or app message with a one-time use passcode to complete the authentication request. This layered approach creates another barrier for malicious hackers to overcome passwords and infiltrate accounts or systems. The Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency(CISA) states that users who enable Multi-factor Authentication have a significantly lower likelihood of being hacked.

On-Premises vs Hosting

Maintaining on-premise servers can be one of the most easily exploitable vulnerabilities in modern cybersecurity. On-premise servers can also be affected by natural disasters, accessed manually, physically damaged in a break-in, and be both time-consuming and costly to repair when the system goes down. Keeping your servers on-site can also reduce your access to critical support when you are relying on internal teams or remote technical support. When choosing cloud-based hosting, you separate your data and critical infrastructure from your organization’s physical location to remote and top-level secured locations. Often, these locations have even more enhanced security features like around-the-clock monitoring and a team of cybersecurity specialists. Making the change to cloud-based hosting is an extra layer of protection and support to add to an organization’s cybersecurity culture.

Backup & Recovery

Backing up your data is a failsafe solution if infiltration has occurred, and your data is being held for ransom. Having scheduled back-ups of your data down to the file level will keep your data from being lost in any number of incidents we’ve described. Most organization’s standard recovery time from cyberattacks ranges from 3 days to 3 weeks on the front end and up to 2-9 months behind the scenes. Implementing scheduled back-ups and a recovery plan can be a lifesaver if or when a cybersecurity event happens. It will also drastically reduce your recovery time.

With the growing list of cyber-attacks in the K-12 industry, it’s even more important to protect your organizational, student, and employee data. Building a cybersecurity culture through awareness, strategic planning, and training will keep schools, districts, and other education institutions from falling victim to devastating cyber threats.

Want to learn more about how to protect your Harris software from potential cybersecurity attacks?

Checkout our cloud solutions page today!