Skip to content

Survival on the K-12 Cyber Security Frontier

K-12 Cyber Security is more important than ever before.

Let me paint you a picture of what it was like back when I was in school.

1200x627-Blog-Survival on the K-12 Cyber Security Frontier

It was late January in central Wisconsin and the single-digit temperatures with 20 MPH winds meant indoor recess. Through the school’s heavy, wooden double doors, down the hallway to the 3rd classroom on the right, roughly fifteen 6th graders huddled nervously around a small desk in the corner of the room. If you weren’t in the first two rows or standing on your chair (which was strictly prohibited), you couldn’t see anything, but you could feel the tension and you could hear the stress…

“Hostile riders ahead! Circle your wagons!”

“Why didn’t you spend $300 on oxen and stop at the fort to buy more food?”

“It doesn’t matter. You’ll get dysentery and die anyway!”

We ate poorly. We forged ahead. The going was slow.

Suddenly there was a collective gasp… “What happened?!?!?!  Why is the screen black?!?!?!”

A small figure dressed in dark navy appeared in the doorway. Entering the room, she calmly assessed the situation. She moved with purpose through the parting sea of students, pausing slightly to instruct Mike McDuffy to step down from his chair, before coming to a stop at the back side of the Apple II on the corner desk. Expertly, she unplugged it and waited. Then she plugged it in again. Though few knew it at the time, Sister Margaret Anne was a pioneer in school IT.

Moments later, lime green text appeared on the 12” screen as PRONTO-DOS loaded.  Pausing for a moment at the blinking cursor, she typed “RUN OREGON1980” and stepped back. Cheers and shouts of joy rang out from the classroom and moments later, my classmates and I were back to facing snakes, rugged mountains, broken arms, typhoid, and a multitude of other simulated perils on the Oregon Trail.

In 2023, elementary and secondary school grades kindergarten through grade 12 (K-12) are facing a very real and far more serious threat that requires solutions more complex than “turn it off then turn it back on again” – an unprecedented increase in the number of cyber security incidents.

The Importance of K-12 Cyber Security

Hackers are specifically targeting K-12 schools because they understand these schools often have limited IT resources, outdated security systems, and frequently lack cyber security expertise. In addition, even small districts have a massive attack surface, with hundreds and even thousands of Internet-connected devices. All these factors make K-12 schools a prime target for data breaches, ransomware attacks, and other malicious activities.

The average cost of a successful cyberattack on a K-12 school topping $2.5 million (lost productivity, data recovery, legal fees, etc.), yet less than half of all K-12 schools currently have a cyber security plan in place. Why?  Many of the most immediate cyber security challenges facing K-12 administrators and technology staff are a function of limited resources. Many schools simply don’t have the staff necessary to prevent or manage today’s most frequent cyber threats like phishing and ransomware, which leaves teachers, administrators, and students at risk. Augmenting the school’s technology staff with experienced IT and cyber experts can quickly shut the door, or speed response, to significant cyber risk.

The Benefits of IT Staff Augmentation

IT staff augmentation is a process of utilizing external IT professionals to supplement the school district’s in-house IT team. This can be a very budget-friendly way for schools to get the IT personnel and expertise needed to protect their systems and data. There are multiple benefits to using IT staff augmentation for schools:

  1. IT staff augmentation can, in general, help schools to fill skill gaps in their IT team. But more specifically, if a school does not have any IT professionals with experience in cybersecurity, they can augment their existing expertise with an external cybersecurity expert to help them assess their risks and implement security measures.
  2. IT staff augmentation can help schools to scale their IT team quickly and easily. If a school is experiencing a sudden increase in student enrollment or is launching a new IT project, they can secure additional IT resources on a temporary basis to meet their needs.
  3. IT staff augmentation can also help schools save money. Hiring external IT professionals is often more cost-effective than hiring full-time employees, especially for schools that do not have a large IT budget.

If you are a K-12 educator or school administrator who is concerned about your school’s cybersecurity, IT staff augmentation may be a good option for you. By hiring external IT professionals to supplement your district’s current resources, you can get the expertise and the experience your district needs to protect your systems and data without having to invest in a large in-house IT team.

Improving Cyber Security

Here are just a few of the specific ways that IT staff augmentation can help schools improve their cyber security:

  • Conduct security assessments: External IT professionals can conduct security assessments of your school’s systems and data to identify potential vulnerabilities with increased objectivity, enhanced expertise, reduced risk of conflicts of interest, and an in-depth understanding of applicable compliance considerations.
  • Implement security measures: External IT professionals can help you to implement security measures, such as firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and data encryption.
  • Monitor your systems: External IT professionals can monitor your systems for suspicious activity and respond to security incidents quickly.
  • Train your staff: External IT professionals can train your staff on cyber security best practices.

When considering IT staff augmentation for your school, here are a few things you should keep in mind:

  1. Make sure that you choose a reputable IT firm that has experience working with schools.
  2. Carefully define your needs so that you (and your IT staffing partner) can find the right IT professionals for your school.
  3. Set clear expectations and communicate regularly with your IT firm so that you can get the most out of your partnership.

IT staff augmentation is a valuable tool for schools that are looking to improve their cybersecurity. ACP CreativIT has decades of experience supporting K-12 students, educators, and administrators across the Midwest. We offer a variety of IT staffing solutions to fit your school’s budget and timeline. We are committed and passionate about providing you with the highest level of security and confidentiality. Contact us today to learn more about how ACP’s IT staff augmentation can help your school improve its cybersecurity.

The IT challenges of the early 1980’s were no match for Sister Margaret Anne’s divine influence and power-cycling routine. But 40 years later, it takes a lot more than moxie to protect K-12 students, teachers, and staff.

ACP CreativIT is proud to offer decades of experience supporting K-12 school districts across the Midwest. We offer a variety of IT staffing solutions to fit your school’s budget and timeline. We are committed and passionate about providing you with the highest level of security and confidentiality. Contact us today to learn more about how ACP’s IT staff augmentation can help your school improve its cyber security plan.

By Chris Dean

Christopher Dean is the General Manager of ACP’s Eau Claire location. With a background in science education, he has over 25 years of experience in business development, operations and executive management in the technology industry. Follow him on LinkedInfor more.