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Fortifying K-12 Cyber Defenses During Spring Break

This is a guest post from our partner, UncommonX

It's crucial for K-12 school district IT and security teams to be on high alert during times like spring break. The tranquility of deserted campuses can be deceiving, masking the lurking threat of cyber attacks aiming to exploit any lapse in vigilance. 

Schools are typically empty and staff may be operating on a skeleton crew, which presents a unique vulnerability. Cybercriminals exploit this lull in activity to launch data breaches and ransomware attacks, capitalizing on potentially slower response times.

Reflecting on recent cyber incidents, this blog post highlights prevention strategies during a vulnerable period for school districts, and highlights a list of measures K-12 schools can take to bolster cyber defenses while staff and students are away.

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Heightened Risk During Spring Break

Last year, two significant cyber attacks underscored the vulnerability of school districts during spring break. Minnesota's Rochester Public Schools, serving over 17,000 students, was compelled to shut down its network following the detection of unusual activity. The disruption led to the cancellation of classes, forcing a rapid adaptation to teaching without major technology systems.

Similarly, Alabama’s Jefferson County Schools, with a 36,000-student body, succumbed to a ransomware attack that severed internet and technology access for nearly two weeks, sparing only state testing activities. These incidents exemplify the critical need for preparedness against cyber threats that intensify during school breaks and holidays.

This year’s spring break follows a year of heightened concern about cybersecurity vulnerabilities at US school districts. According to the May 2023 CoSN State of EdTech Leadership report, cybersecurity remains respondents’ top priority for a fifth year in a row. However, 66 percent of school districts do not have a full-time cybersecurity position and more than one in five have no funding for cybersecurity defense.

Implementing Proactive Cybersecurity Measures

While many K-12 schools find themselves struggling to keep pace with the growing threat of cyber attacks, there are preliminary measures IT and security teams can take to begin building cyber resilience, especially during times when networks are most vulnerable, like spring break.

Best Practices for Building Cyber Resilience

Ensure Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) is in place

  • MFA is a simple yet effective measure that fortifies your defenses, ensuring an added security layer that’s critical in preventing unauthorized access, particularly when school isn’t in session. 

Update Incident Response Plans

  • A robust incident response plan is your blueprint for navigating cyber incidents, with regular drills essential for refining your action strategy should one occur while staff and students are away.

Check all data backups

  • Conduct consistent backups of all essential data prior to spring break. It’s a fundamental step for quick recovery in the face of cyber attack. It can significantly mitigate the impact of a ransomware attack.

Schedule a security audit

Reinforce network security

  • Adopt advanced security protocols, including firewalls and encryption, to shield your network. UncommonX ensures rapid threat identification and resolution via its 24/7 SOC while staff and students are away for spring break.

A Time for Staff Rest, Not Cyber Risk

As schools gear up for spring break, UncommonX stands at the ready. Its suite of cybersecurity solutions ensures school districts are equipped to anticipate cyber threats, maintain a secure network and build a more resilient digital learning environment.

 This was the case recently when an UncommonX school district customer experienced a ransomware attack. Fortunately, the immediate visibility delivered by UncommonX and its 24/7 SOC found where the attack started and sped up the start of remediation.

With just 10 days until students and teachers were due to arrive back on campus, the UncommonX 24/7 SOC team and the district’s IT team worked to successfully rebuild the network and put protections in place.

By offering a combination of advanced threat detection, response capabilities and 24/7 monitoring, UncommonX MDR for education ensures that school districts of all sizes and resources can secure their networks and data effectively.

Key Features of UncommonX MDR for Education

Real-time threat detection

  • Leveraging cutting-edge technology to monitor school networks for potential threats continuously.

Expert response team

  • A dedicated team of cybersecurity experts ready to respond to and mitigate threats as they arise, ensuring minimal disruption to learning.

Tailored security posture

  • Customizable solutions that address the specific cybersecurity challenges faced by K-12 schools, from securing student data to protecting against ransomware.

Educational support and training

  • Empowering school districts with the knowledge and tools necessary to foster a culture of cybersecurity awareness among staff and students.

Let spring break serve as a timely reminder of the importance of cybersecurity preparedness. As we work toward a future where every student can learn in a secure and equitable digital environment, the collective efforts of educators, policymakers and the cybersecurity community will be paramount.