3 Tools for K-12 Cybersecurity: Keeping Schools Safe in a Digital World

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Our connected world offers opportunities for learners of all ages, but it also introduces risks as soon as our young ones can type, swipe or click. With the ongoing circumstances related to the pandemic and an emerging new normal, the rush to adopt digital sources of learning has introduced an array of new technologies and internet destinations, vastly increasing our digital footprint. Thus, it’s never too early to start educating children on how to be responsible and safe digital citizens.

Schools are keenly interested in online safety and security. IT leaders working in K-12 schools say cybersecurity is their number one concern, and with good reason. For example, a 2018 report from the Pew Research Center found that, in the U.S. alone, “The vast majority of teens… have access to a smartphone, and 45% are online on a near constant basis.”

The simple act of clicking on a link in a phishing email can have serious consequences for students and schools. Recent phishing campaigns have triggered ransomware attacks that have shut down schools, exposed student or employee information or stolen large amounts of money from employees by misleading them into paying fraudulent invoices. A single approach to K-12 cybersecurity won’t cover all areas of concern. Here are three ways that Palo Alto Networks can help educators and administrators keep students and schools cyber safe.

1. Education for K-12 Cybersecurity: Cyber A.C.E.S.

Cyber A.C.E.S. (Activities in Cybersecurity Education for Students) is a free, interactive learning program that equips kids from ages 5 to 15 with the knowledge they need to have safer online experiences and become good digital citizens. Lessons for four specific age groups are designed so educators can easily lead activities without prior training. Each age-group module includes hands-on activities in four areas: responsible connectivity, privacy, communication and digital citizenship. We encourage you to download some of the Cyber A.C.E.S. modules and try them out! 

2. Supporting Remote Learning in a Time of Rapid Change

In response to the circumstances of COVID-19, educational institutions have rapidly shifted instructional models to embrace remote and hybrid learning delivery. This is no small feat for administrators and educators – or for students and parents. Of course, as with any IT transformation, network and security teams have also shared a large burden of responsibility.

From the onset of the pandemic, with the new school year underway, the obvious priority has been accessibility and ease of use for new technologies. Technology leaders have also had to ensure they can securely provide remote access to these remote and hybrid platforms. We’ve compiled some of the best practices we’ve gleaned from our engagement with educational institutions into a guide to help you support remote learning in this time of rapid change.

3. Resources for Securing Funding for K-12 Cybersecurity

Lastly, an important consideration is funding, which is certainly a top-of-mind consideration as the pandemic impacts public sector revenues and budgets. In the U.S., the Universal Service Program for Schools and Libraries (E-rate) provides funding for schools to connect to information and resources through the internet. E-rate can help fund a portion of the security you need to create a safe K-12 learning environment. For U.S. districts and schools planning to use their 2020 E-rate funding to help secure their network, we maintain a list of E-rate resources to help guide you through the process, and we have recently added some new video briefings to provide the latest news on E-rate and potential upcoming funding opportunities. 

For more information on how Palo Alto Networks helps K-12 schools around the world secure their modern learning environments, visit our K-12 industry page.

This blog was written by Greg Herbold, director, U.S. Public Sector, and Jeff Rangel, senior director, global corporate responsibility.

Updated Oct. 9, 2020, to reflect new information related to educators’ response to COVID-19.


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