In recent years, the use of digital tools in schools has skyrocketed, making them increasingly susceptible to sophisticated cyberattacks. However, many K-12 technology leaders feel ill-equipped to defend their networks, despite the fact that these attacks can cause significant disruptions to teaching, administrative functions, and compromise the security of sensitive student and employee data.
During a panel discussion that I moderated at the International Society for Technology in Education conference on June 26, three experts shared insights on what district leaders can do to ensure they are prepared for cyberattacks and that students and staff are using digital tools safely. The panelists included Mohit Gupta from Clever, Elizabeth Hoover from the Alexandria City Public Schools, and Merve Lapus from Common Sense, a nonprofit organization focused on digital and media literacy skills development.
It is crucial for district leaders to be prepared for cyberattacks as more and more districts become targets. Gupta emphasized the importance of planning for the unexpected, even for districts that have implemented strong security measures. District technology leaders need to address key questions, such as what immediate actions to take, who to contact, and what steps to take for remediation. Additionally, cybersecurity plans should be routinely practiced, similar to fire drills, to ensure everyone knows what to do when faced with an attack. For instance, the Alexandria school district has a cyber incident response team comprising individuals from different roles within the district who may not be cybersecurity experts but have the knowledge and expertise to handle a cyberattack. They are responsible for contacting the necessary entities, such as cybersecurity insurance providers and lawyers, when an attack occurs.
As cyber criminals increasingly leverage AI-powered tools, schools must consider how to use these tools effectively. Hoover highlighted the importance of fostering a culture of exploration and understanding when adopting new technologies. Her district is actively discussing how to approach emerging technologies, secure the data collected by these tools, and involve the community in the decision-making process. Lapus echoed the sentiment that schools should approach emerging technologies thoughtfully without succumbing to fear.
Educators need to be aware of the information sources behind AI tools and the potential biases embedded in that data. Gupta emphasized that the rapid proliferation of technology in schools necessitates a heightened focus on cybersecurity. Districts must quickly catch up and provide training to ensure that data, which holds significant value, remains protected from motivated attackers armed with ample resources.