Protecting Schools: Crafting Your Cyber Incident Response Plan

Cyber, Education

In this case, the most obvious answer is the right one. Schools collect and store a significant amount of sensitive data, including personal information of students and staff and financial records. The systems where they store this information are not audited and scrutinized the same way they would be for a health care or financial services firm; a tell-tale sign that it’s time to re-evaluate common practices.

Student Data – The Identity Thief’s Treasure Trove

Schools hold vast amounts of sensitive student information, including personally identifiable information (PII) like names, addresses, and Social Security numbers. This data is highly valuable to cybercriminals for identity theft and fraud for two key reasons:

  • They are generally working with a “clean slate”, meaning they don’t have to worry about any negative information in a credit report
  • Children’s personal information is less likely to be monitored and can be used for years before someone realizes any fraud has taken place

What is a School to Do?

Unlike large corporations or government agencies, educational institutions typically operate with limited cybersecurity resources. Many schools lack dedicated cybersecurity staff equipped to handle sophisticated cyber threats. This resource constraint makes them susceptible to attacks exploiting vulnerabilities in outdated software, inadequate security protocols and poor training.

Many security vendors offer reduced rates for different cyber solutions or services for schools and other educational institutions. Sometimes, being able to afford these services is as simple as asking for any reduced rates. Additionally, the Center for Internet Security (CIS), the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), and the Wisconsin Cyber Response Team (CRT) can offer many different resources.

Planning for the Worst

A cyber incident response plan is essential for schools to address and minimize the impact of an attack. By proactively planning, schools can safeguard sensitive data and maintain their ability to educate students during a cyber crisis. A well-developed response plan helps minimize potential public backlash, while empowering staff and stakeholders with clear guidance on their roles and responsibilities. By conducting post-incident reviews, information sharing, and continuous improvement efforts, schools can strengthen their ability to withstand future cyber threats, safeguarding student information and educational operations.

Conduct a Cyber Drill

Much like we conduct fire and tornado drills, schools should conduct a cyber tabletop exercise on at least an annual basis. This exercise tests and evaluates how well an organization responds to cyber incidents in a controlled environment and can help organizations identify strengths and weaknesses in their incident response plans and procedures. Cyber tabletop exercises can help strengthen an organization’s resilience to cyber threats by providing practical training, fostering a culture of preparedness, and ensuring effective coordination during critical incidents.

Key Takeaways

The prevalence of cyberattacks on schools continues to highlight the need for robust cybersecurity measures. Schools, holding vast amounts of sensitive student data, are prime targets for identity theft and fraud due to clean credit slates and less monitored personal information. Limited cybersecurity resources make schools vulnerable to attacks exploiting outdated software, inadequate protocols, and insufficient training. Developing a comprehensive cyber incident response plan, including key contacts, critical system identification, role delineation, and staff training, is crucial for minimizing the impact of cyberattacks.

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