Closing The Gaps In Your K-12 District’s Cybersecurity Stack

A defense-in-depth strategy dictates that having just one or two cybersecurity tools in place is not enough to protect your district against modern and evolving cyber threats. Just ask the small- to medium-sized business segment that, on average, uses 11 different products to fulfill their cybersecurity needs.

For K-12 schools, the need to stack services and tools for a more holistic approach to security isn‘t any different.

In this guide, we’ll discuss the ins and outs of building the ideal cybersecurity stack for your K-12 school district, starting with learning more about what a cybersecurity stack looks like and finishing with how to build an effective one.

What is a cybersecurity stack?

The term cybersecurity tech stack refers to the tools, technologies, platforms, and vendors you use to manage cybersecurity in your school district. Essentially, it’s a layered approach to security where each layer provides a different level of protection for an organization’s digital assets, information, and infrastructure from various cyber threats.

Since each industry is unique, different organizations may require distinctive cybersecurity tech stack configurations based on attributes such as their IT infrastructure and distinct risk and compliance management needs.

Why do districts need a stronger security posture?

Digital transformation and the subsequent digitization of student records means that school districts are storing increasingly large amounts of sensitive data — more than ever before. This alone should be all the reason needed to improve your cybersecurity posture; however, there is more than one pressing motive to enhance your tech stack:

  • You’re increasing your use of different types of technology, including more endpoints and EdTech software. Laptops, tablets, interactive whiteboards, networked security cameras, and more, all represent vulnerable endpoints if not secured correctly. Beyond that, EdTech software such as learning management systems (LMS), education apps, digital textbooks, and collaboration tools are more common than ever, which can stretch your current security posture thin without the right tech stack in place.
  • K-12 institutions are the second most targeted industry segment, second only to local government institutions. In 2023, rates of ransomware attacks against education providers more than doubled compared to the year before. Looking specifically at K-12 education, 80% said they were hit by ransomware in the last year. And while 99% say that they ultimately got their data back, 47% did so by paying the ransom.
  • Education & Research is ranked dead last in cybersecurity preparedness compared to 17 major industries. In the first quarter of 2023, the education/research sector experienced a staggering average of 2,507 attacks per organization, per week — a 15% increase from Q1 the year prior.

The benefits of strong cybersecurity tools

Beyond simply safeguarding student data, which is the major impetus for a robust cybersecurity tech stack, districts stand to benefit in other valuable ways, including:

  • Improved data privacy and compliance. Strong cybersecurity tools help safeguard sensitive student information, including personal data, academic records, and assessment results, from unauthorized access, theft, or misuse.
  • Better protected infrastructure. School districts rely on IT infrastructure, including networks, servers, and endpoints, to support teaching and administrative activities. Protecting this infrastructure from cyber threats helps maintain the integrity, availability, and reliability of essential services to lessen the chance of disruption to students’ education.
  • Enhanced trust among parents, students, and staff. Parents, students, and staff trust districts to protect their privacy and ensure the security of their data. Strong cybersecurity measures demonstrate a commitment to maintaining trust, confidence, and transparency in how your district handles sensitive information.
  • Mitigation of financial and reputational risks. A strong cybersecurity posture reflects positively on the reputation and brand image of your school district. It demonstrates a commitment to security, professionalism, and accountability, which can enhance your district’s standing within the community and among stakeholders.

[FREE] Google Workspace and/or Microsoft 365 Security Audit. Learn More & Claim >>

The key components of a K-12 cybersecurity stack

Depending on the industry, an effective cybersecurity stack can have more or fewer tools in place to maximize results. But, in general, the more the better.

For K-12 districts, the following essential components are highly recommended to be included as part of your tech stack:

Network Security

This layer of your cybersecurity tech stack protects your internal network from both internal and external threats, such as malware, phishing attacks, data leakage, unauthorized access, and more.

Protecting your district’s network is critical, especially considering that experts predict next-gen phishing attacks supercharged by artificial intelligence will become a major problem in the years ahead.

Here are a couple of effective solutions for network security:

  • Network segmentation: Network segmentation divides the district’s network into separate segments or subnetworks, each with its own security controls and access policies. This helps contain security breaches, limit the impact of cyberattacks, and protect critical assets and sensitive data from unauthorized access.
  • Virtual private network (VPN): VPN solutions encrypt network traffic and create secure tunnels over the internet, allowing users to access the district’s network resources securely from remote locations. VPNs are essential for securing remote learning environments and providing secure access to educational resources for students, teachers, and staff.

Endpoint Security

Endpoint security involves securing individual devices like computers, laptops, and mobile devices used by students and staff. That means deploying tools such as:

  • Antivirus software: This fundamental tool helps protect endpoints against various types of malicious software, including viruses, worms, Trojans, ransomware, and spyware by scanning files, emails, and web traffic for known malware signatures and behavior patterns.
  • Endpoint detection and response (EDR) tools: EDR solutions provide advanced threat detection and response capabilities for endpoints by continuously monitoring for signs of suspicious activity, unauthorized access attempts, and malicious behavior.
  • Mobile device management (MDM) solutions: MDM solutions enable districts to manage and secure devices like smartphones and tablets used by students, teachers, and staff while allowing administrators to enforce security policies, configure device settings, deploy software updates, and remotely wipe or lock lost or stolen devices to protect sensitive data.

Cloud Security

The good thing about moving to cloud computing, such as using Google Workspace and Microsoft 365, is that a lot of your infrastructure security is taken care of for you. However, it is still your responsibility to safeguard access to the applications provided by Google and Microsoft (i.e. email, shared docs, shared drives, etc.)

Safeguarding the data you’re storing in Google and Microsoft applications is critical for K-12 districts, as more than 90% are operating in the cloud. Monitoring and auditing cloud activity are two of the most important aspects of cloud security.

Here’s how you can enhance your efforts:

  • Cloud security monitoring: District IT teams should implement cloud security monitoring solutions to detect and respond to security incidents and anomalies in Google Workspace and Microsoft 365 in real time. Cloud security monitoring solutions can provide visibility into user activity, network traffic, and configuration changes in cloud environments, allowing your tech team to identify and mitigate security threats quickly.
  • Regular security assessments and audits: Regular security assessments and audits of your district’s Google and/or Microsoft environment will help identify vulnerabilities, misconfigurations, and compliance gaps. Districts should perform penetration testing, vulnerability scanning, and security assessments of cloud infrastructure to ensure they meet security standards and regulatory requirements.

Identity and Access Management

IAM solutions manage user identities and their access rights to resources within the organization’s network. This includes techniques such as:

  • Multi-factor authentication (MFA): MFA enhances security by requiring users to provide multiple forms of authentication before gaining access to resources. This typically involves combining something the user knows (such as a password) with something they have (such as a smartphone or token) or something they are (such as a fingerprint or facial recognition).
  • Role-based access control: This method of managing access rights is based on the roles and responsibilities of individual users within the school district. Each staff member is assigned one or more roles that define their permissions and privileges to access specific resources or perform certain actions.

[FREE] Google Workspace and/or Microsoft 365 Security Audit. Learn More & Claim >>

Building a strong K-12 security posture

If you’re unsure where to start when it comes to building a better, stronger security posture for your K-12 school district, you aren’t alone.

Thankfully, there are straightforward, actionable steps you can take today to start fortifying your figurative cyber walls against common threats.

1. Conduct a risk assessment to understand your gaps

This includes assessing IT infrastructure, systems, and data assets to identify potential vulnerabilities. Consider factors such as regulatory compliance requirements, data sensitivity, and the potential impact of security incidents on teaching and learning activities.

2. Identify cybersecurity solutions that address your vulnerabilities

Based on the findings of your risk assessment, identify cybersecurity solutions and technologies that can help address your vulnerabilities and mitigate identified risks. Choose solutions that are tailored to the specific needs and requirements of K-12 school districts, considering factors such as ease of use, scalability, integration capabilities, and affordability.

3. Deploy a data loss prevention (DLP) tool to improve threat detection

Configure DLP policies to monitor and control the movement of sensitive data across your network, endpoints, and cloud environments. Then, integrate DLP capabilities into your existing security infrastructure to provide centralized visibility and enforcement across all data channels and endpoints.

4. Create an incident response plan

Your plan should outline immediate and follow-up steps to be taken in the event of a cybersecurity incident. This includes defining roles and responsibilities for key personnel and establishing communication protocols.

5. Regularly test and update your policies

An incident response plan should be practiced through tabletop exercises or simulations to ensure that staff are prepared to respond effectively to security incidents if and when they occur. If you recognize areas for improvement, you should immediately update your policies to reflect and stay ahead of cybercriminals.

Fortify your defenses with ManagedMethods

Your cybersecurity stack shouldn’t stop at the network level. At ManagedMethods, we enable K-12 school districts to gain the visibility and control you need in Google Workspace and Microsoft 365 with Cloud Monitor.

With our holistic cloud monitoring solution in place, your district can easily prevent data loss, give you more control over your third-party apps, and help keep your network protected against phishing and malware threats — among other valuable cybersecurity measures.

Request your 30-day free audit and experience for yourself how Cloud Monitor can enhance your district’s cybersecurity stack.

FREE Google/Microsoft Security & Safety Audit. Claim My Free Audit >>

© 2024 ManagedMethods

Website Developed & Managed by C. CREATIVE, LLC