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Research and Innovation

K-12 Schools Need Staff, Training To Face Cybersecurity Threats

Close-up of laptop
Close-up of laptop. Credit: Philipp Katzenberger on Unsplash,

The threat of cyberattacks against K-12 school districts has raised concerns among staff and created a need for additional technology resources.

Those are the findings of a recent study, published in the Journal of Cybersecurity Education, Research and Practice, that focused on advancing our understanding of the cybersecurity challenges and needs for K-12 school districts in a southeastern U.S. state. For the study, researchers analyzed 23 district websites and interviewed 12 school technology leaders. Leaders reported needing more technology staff, training to implement the most modern security strategies, and technology infrastructure.

“School leaders are doing what they can, but in the digital world, there are always needs; things are moving and evolving at such a rapid pace,” said the study’s lead author Florence Martin, professor of learning, design and technology at NC State.

The Abstract spoke to Martin about the study and her work on a cybersecurity-focused professional development program for staff in the education sector.

TA: What are some of the cybersecurity risks for K-12 districts?

Martin: There are concerns about attackers breaking in and accessing protected student data. Also, we rely so much on technology access with digital learning, and there can be a loss of learning time if there is a cyberattack where you’re locked out of your system, and students cannot log in.

TA: What are some of the districts’ main technology needs?

Martin:  They have needs related to infrastructure, manpower and cost. There are not enough people – tech staff – to support cybersecurity. They also need training for the staff they do have in order to implement modern best practices. They would also like access to external diagnostics and biometric login technology. So, rather than just text-based based logins, it would be fingerprints and eye detection.

They’re also asking for more of the latest technology to replace aging infrastructure. That’s a big challenge in K-12. They probably purchased some devices with some money that was given, but is there funding to keep up with new encryption software, backup and recovery systems?

TA: How are you planning to address schools’ cybersecurity needs?

Martin: We are launching a professional development program for school administrators and technology directors to address educational technology security and privacy. More and more technology is being used in schools, and it’s important to maintain security and privacy. Part of that means understanding what type of data technology vendors are collecting, and who has access to it. Participants will also work on a plan to keep their systems safe.