Cybersecurity & Schools – What You Should Know

E Learning Concept With Woman Working On A Laptop

Cybersecurity, safeguarding and schools: What every school needs to know about threats online

From recording & reporting detailed performance data, to staff sharing content & collaborating with students, schools are increasingly reliant on computers and connectivity.

In recent times, the already sizeable task of managing data security has increased considerably for schools and their IT departments. When school staff work from home and students take part in online learning, the risk of sensitive data leaving the school’s network grows. Research suggests that cybercrime within Education has doubled over the past five years due to the emerging trends in Educational Technology, and we know that cybercriminals are quick to take advantage of an evolving situation.

Cybersecurity and online safety risks

The Government has previously advised schools to be particularly vigilant around information security. It has warned that unauthorised access to personal information would be particularly harmful to pupils; parents and staff; people with a right to seek compensation if the loss of their personal data caused them damage which could potentially cause a loss in reputation for the institution in question. 

Educators need to think about the agility of their systems. If necessary, how quickly could they switch to a model where staff and students work from home without compromising on school cyber security policies? It’s a consideration that requires serious thought: If school resources were to be made inaccessible by a ransomware attack, learning could grind to a sharp halt and sensitive information can be in the hands of the wrong person.

While the risks of malware and data theft are relevant to any organisation with personal data and computers, schools are particularly exposed to several other risks relating to online safety, including:

  • Exposure to questionable and sensitive content
  • Inappropriate contact from people
  • Students themselves engaging in harmful online behaviour

Prioritising the physical and online safety of children continues to be a priority for schools’ leadership teams and it’s important that IT teams are able to review and implement changes to ensure their online safety.

An effective approach

Guidance published by the Department for Education requires that school governors and managers put in place “an effective approach to online safety” to “protect and educate the whole school or college community in their use of technology and establishes mechanisms to identify, intervene in and escalate any incident where appropriate.”

What an “effective approach” looks like is somewhat subjective and can differ from organisation to organisation. In Mother’s experience, the most secure organisations use technology where appropriate, supported with clear policies and, most importantly, extensive user education. With the changes we’ve seen in the way education is delivered in the wake of the Coronavirus, it’s a good time to review school cyber security procedures and update policies.

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