Our Preventative Measures for Cybersecurity’s Dangers

Type: Article
Topics: School Administrator Magazine, Student & Child Privacy

February 01, 2024


Data breaches, denial of service attacks and ransomware incidents have become alarmingly common, posing significant threats to data security and privacy in our schools. One of the most harrowing scenarios unfolds when children, having grown into adults, apply for a credit card only to discover that their social security number was compromised years ago, leading to thousands of dollars in fraudulent debt accumulated in their name.

These scenarios are not just hypotheticals. They are real and present dangers in our increasingly digitized world.

In response to these growing concerns, AASA has taken a leading role in advocating for more robust data security and privacy policies in public education and broader societal contexts. The AASA Student and Child Privacy Center is one example of this effort, ensuring these critical issues remain at the forefront of discussions among our elected officials.

This initiative is needed now more than ever as we work to bolster our resources and support for school districts nationwide, where over 130 state student privacy laws have been enacted since 2014.

Security Outreach

The AASA team diligently tracks legislation and provides technical expertise and guidance to districts, educational partners and policymakers.

Supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and in partnership with WestEd, this innovative center’s establishment represents a significant stride in addressing present challenges. We are deeply grateful for their partnership and support, which have been instrumental in advancing this mission.

Our center’s initiatives include supporting WestEd’s Data Integration Support Center, which offers indispensable technical assistance to public agencies nationwide. Our outreach also addresses the unique challenges posed by remote and hybrid learning models, which have introduced new complexities to the issue of data security in education.

Technology integration in education has been a game-changer, offering unparalleled opportunities for learning and collaboration. Personal devices, cloud services and educational apps often hold vast amounts of sensitive data, including students’ personal information, academic records and behavioral data.

Ensuring the security of these digital platforms is critical to protect against unauthorized access and misuse of this information. Schools and technology companies must implement robust cybersecurity measures and policies to guard against these risks, ensuring these technological advancements are not liabilities.

In the wake of numerous data breaches in various sectors, there is an increasing emphasis on legal compliance regarding data privacy. This means adhering to laws such as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act and various state-specific privacy laws for educational institutions.

Human Components

While technological solutions are critical, the human aspect and people’s behaviors regarding data security must be considered. Educating staff and students about safe online practices, recognizing phishing attempts, and the importance of strong passwords are components of a comprehensive data security strategy. Regular training sessions, workshops and awareness campaigns can create a culture of cybersecurity awareness within the school system.

Equipping individuals with the knowledge and tools to recognize and prevent potential security threats is as important, if not more, as investing in technological defenses.

For example, when we rolled out our one-to-one initiative in my district, we required all students to take a digital literacy program when they received their devices. Additionally, our tech team would imitate phishing attempts by sending test e-mails to staff and then follow up to support those needing more assistance recognizing these attempts.

As technology continues to evolve, so do the threats to data security. We must stay current on the latest cybersecurity developments, adopt flexible and scalable security solutions, and foster a culture of continual learning and adaptation in the face of new threats.

The AASA Student and Child Privacy Center, with its comprehensive approach and collaborative efforts, is here to support you. With all its opportunities and challenges, the digital schoolyard needs our concerted efforts to make it a secure and enriching space for all.

San Diego Convening

Finally, I look forward to spending time with you at the National Conference on Education this month in San Diego. We have incredible sessions and speakers lined up for you, and it has been, and continues to be, the professional development highlight of the year for me and for many of our colleagues. Travel to the conference safely, be well, see you soon and continue to do well by our children, my friends.

David Schuler is AASA executive director. Twitter: @AASA_ED