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6 Critical Steps to Bolstering Your School’s Network Security

The ongoing revolution in digital technologies has made the learning process easier and more interesting for students of all ages. As your IT environment becomes more mature, however, you need to give some thought to how you will protect your systems and devices from attackers.

Don’t worry. There’s good news, too.

A little bit of common sense can go a long way when following cyber security best practices. Let’s look at some of the most important actions that you can take to make your school’s network more secure.

  1. Antivirus and Anti-Malware Solutions

Teachers are migrating more of their lessons and resources online, which means that your school’s network security is critical. Your network as a whole is becoming a more tempting target for cybercriminals who are looking to make a little profit—or just want to have a little fun at your expense.

For example, “ransomware” applications like the 2017 WannaCry attack lock up your own files and data and refuse to give you back access until you pay a hefty sum to the attackers. Viruses, worms, Trojan horses, and other nasty software can wreak havoc on your school network, making computers shut down or behave erratically.

In order to keep your network protected, install strong antivirus and anti-malware software that can quickly detect and quarantine suspicious applications. These applications should run scans of the entire network on a regular basis.

  1. Software Updates and Patches

The devastating 2017 Equifax breach, which revealed the sensitive information of 143 million people in the U.S., occurred after attackers entered the company’s network through a security vulnerability with a patch already available for months.

As you add more devices to your school network, it becomes more and more imperative to make sure that each machine has installed the latest upgrades. Patch management software can help you keep track of each device’s status. Additionally, it can alert you to any critical vulnerabilities that need immediate attention.

  1. BYOD Security Policies

Smartphones, tablets, and laptops have the potential to greatly enhance the classroom learning experience. However, they also carry great risks when you allow students to bring in their personal devices.

Because the administration has no oversight of how students behave on their own laptops and tablets, you could be opening a security “backdoor” every time that these devices connect to the school’s network.

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Related: They Stole You?

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To guard against the potential dangers of personal devices in the classroom, create and enforce a strong BYOD (“bring your own device”) security policy. For example, students might have to install an app that monitors their Internet activity while connected to the network at school. It’s a small price to pay to bolster your school’s network security.

  1. Third-Party Vetting

Many schools choose to work with third-party IT vendors because they don’t have the in-house knowledge or experience to build a robust IT infrastructure themselves. While this can greatly enhance your capabilities, it can also expose you to additional risk.

Just like students’ personal devices, vendors with inadequate security training may accidentally open a backdoor into your school network. The devastating Home Depot and Target data breaches both occurred due to a third-party vendor with lax security practices.

It’s important to do your research when speaking with potential IT vendors. Once you’re drawing up the contract, make sure that both of you are on the same page by including cyber security best practices in your service level agreement (SLA).

  1. Data Backups and Encryption

Schools represent a highly enticing target for attackers. This is because they possess a great deal of personal and sensitive information about their students and employees. Still, in the event that hackers do break into your network, all is not necessarily lost.

By backing up your data at regular intervals in a separate location, like on a server in the cloud, you can protect it from loss even if your systems are compromised by a ransomware attack. In addition, if you encrypt the data that you store on your on-premises servers, it will be useless gibberish. Even in the hands of the attackers, unless they have the decryption key.

Encrypting your data should be a secondary line of defense if a data breach does occur. Data encryption will help you remain compliant with legislation such as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) because the breach only exposed the encrypted information and not the actual underlying data.

  1. Training and Education

The best defense is a good offense, especially in cyber security. All too often, schools and companies have issues with breaches and malware. This can all be because one person clicked on the wrong link or opened a malicious application.

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Related: 4 Ways to Avoid Internal Security Threats

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Students, teachers, and administrators should all be trained to recognize the common signs of phishing emails and other scams. For example, phishing emails usually create a false sense of urgency and have frequent spelling errors. In addition, the email address of the sender is likely incorrect. Links in the body of the email may superficially resemble the correct website, but point somewhere else upon closer examination.

Bonus Step 7: Partner with a Scholastic IT Expert

Everything we mentioned above will take ample coordination and research. It’s a delicate game of balancing the necessary network security components to secure your school and staying within your IT budget.

Luckily, that’s where we can help.

We’re experts in optimizing schools to have the best possible security solutions that work for their needs. Let’s have a chat and explore more of what you’re looking for.