Protecting K-12 Student Data and Complying With Privacy Standards Requires a Comprehensive Security Solution

August 30, 2022
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Our education systems are under siege

The education systems, including K-12 school institutions, are in the crosshairs of increasingly frequent and sophisticated cyberattacks. In just one month of 2021, educational organizations suffered more than 5.8 million malware incidents

Teachers, administrators and students are also targets as they use various devices such as laptops and smartphones to browse social media or send messages with friends and family.

David Richardson, Lookout Vice President of Product, spoke with ABC7 Bay Area about device security and what parents need to be aware of as students go back to school.

So what makes education institutions so appealing to cybercriminals?

Students are high value targets

Educational institutions possess large volumes of sensitive student data. According to the K-12 Cybersecurity Resource Center, school districts across the U.S. handle data for more than 50 million individuals. Cyber criminals place an especially high value on personally identifiable information (PII) of students, particularly their social security numbers, as they are less likely to be caught when impersonating a child.

Education systems have become more vulnerable

Protecting data of K-12 students used to be far easier. In the past, students learned exclusively in the classroom with hardcopy materials and relied on the school or local library for the learning material they needed to do their homework. Data almost exclusively resided “on premises,” as in it was stored in the school building or the school system’s data center.

The transformation to a digital education environment, fueled and accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the imperative for remote learning, changed everything. Today, K-12 students rely on school-issued Chromebooks and personal mobile devices to access cloud-based educational applications that deliver customized learning, social media apps to collaborate with teachers and other students, and the internet to reach web sites to complete their homework.

Digital learning not only expanded the educational landscape, but it also moved PII into new environments, making it more vulnerable than ever to compromise. In fact, ransomware attacks hit nearly 1,700 U.S. educational institutions in 2020, a 100% increase from the prior year. The average attack cost $2.73 million in downtime, repairs and lost opportunities. And as a result, it’s a lot easier to lose sensitive data like student PII, which could trigger a violation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which comes with its own set of stiff penalties and consequences.

Outdated, inadequate security solutions

Most security solutions currently used by school districts were designed to protect on-premises data and apps. They are ill-equipped to account for apps that reside in the cloud or student data that lives and travels on mobile devices, hotspots and throughout the internet. 

To ensure sensitive data is protected, schools must rethink their security strategy. Simply deploying modern security products for one-off use cases isn’t enough. Some systems focus on implementing a secure web gateway (SWG) to support secure access to the internet. That’s necessary, but not sufficient, as it leaves out other parts of student activity, such as mobile devices and various cloud apps.

Protecting students and maintaining compliance requires a unified approach

K-12 school systems must eliminate the patchwork of solutions that fail to meet the depth and breadth of security requirements that accompany digital education. Lookout offers a unified, industry-leading platform that:

  • Enables controlled access for students, teachers, families and administrators to all of the on-premises and cloud-based apps they need.
  • Protects all of the devices — including Chromebooks, smartphones and tablets — students use to learn, collaborate and do their homework.
  • Provides SWG functionality for safe student web browsing by blocking access to sites deemed inappropriate or outside of acceptable use.
  • Counteracts cybercriminal activity by protecting data wherever it goes and is stored, continuously assessing risk and dynamically blocking access to locations where viruses and malware may be present.

The Lookout Security Platform delivers these capabilities without impacting the student learning experience or invading the privacy of the apps and data on their personal mobile devices. Our platform represents a comprehensive solution that best meets the enhanced data protection, privacy preservation and FERPA compliance mandates facing K-12 school districts in today’s digital education world.

Learn more about how Lookout secures student data: https://www.lookout.com/solutions/k12edu

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