As cyberthreats rise, CoSN issues a set of security resources for school tech leaders


As traditional school classrooms undergo the transformation into fully integrated digital-learning environments, cybersecurity has become ever more critical.

Recognizing the array of security challenges facing school technology leaders, the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) has developed a set of fundamental resources to help them protect against cyberthreats and develop effective security programs.

Coinciding with the initiative, CoSN also has unveiled a new project called SEND: Cloud to help school technology leaders take advantage of cloud computing in modern learning settings.

The release of key security-planning resources represents part of a larger modernized cybersecurity initiative for CoSN, officials said.

“There will plenty more resources coming out over the future months,” Marie Bjerede, CoSN’s principal for mobile learning and infrastructure, told EdScoop.

The resources are designed to support school technology leaders as they create their own up-to-date cybersecurity programs.

“As districts leverage technology for learning, it is critical that they protect their networks, analyze their current status and validate what they are or are not doing well,” said CoSN chief executive officer Keith Krueger. “These resources will help them do that as threats continue to evolve.”

The resources include:

  • A planning rubric providing a comprehensive set of action areas required for a complete security plan, describing what those elements might look like at basic, developing, adequate and advanced levels
  • A planning template—a structure for identifying the steps necessary to address each of the areas of the planning rubric
  • Self-assessment—a 100-point quiz for districts to assess where they are in implementing their security plan
  • An infographic outlining the importance of cybersecurity for districts, including the potential liability of district and school leaders in the event of a student data breach

Bjerede said that schools face the same security risks as other organizations, but several threats in particular are on the rise in the education sector, including phishing and ransomware attacks.

“Some types of cyberattacks have been common for quite some time, in particular denial-of-service attacks,” she said. “I don’t think the vulnerability there is any different than it has been in the past, but what we are seeing is a rise in the phishing attacks that depend on social engineering and also ransomware attacks. That’s where we’re seeing the most activity.”

To be sure, the Internal Revenue Service has reported that more than two dozen school districts have been victimized by phishing scams in recent months. The scam targets payroll or human resources personnel, who receive what looks like an email from a central office administrator asking for an employee’s W-2 forms or personal or financial information.

Nathan Mielke, director of technology services at Hartford Union High School in Hartford, Wis., said that cyber challenges won’t be solved simply by technical means. “No software or security appliance will protect you from everything,” he said. “Education and relationships will be your strongest assets in improving your organization’s security.”

It’s crucial for school leaders to recognize that cybersecurity “now has become elevated in its importance,” Bjerede said, noting that they faces issues such as liability for security incidents, legal requirements for data security, the potential for damaged professional reputations, teaching and learning deficiencies when the network is unavailable and negative fallout when student digital records are breached or maliciously modified.

CoSN’s cloud initiative, called SEND: Cloud, comes at a time when cloud computing is a rising trend in education technology worldwide, CoSN officials said.

“It looks like cloud is starting to become the next imperative for K-12 education,” Bjerede said.

As part of the cloud initiative, over the next year, CoSN and education technology experts will build tools and resources for school leaders as they move their districts to cloud-based services.

Through this work, officials said CoSN will develop infographics for nontechnical leaders about the cloud imperative, communications guidance to help tech leaders explain cloud computing to superintendents and school boards, case studies of district experiences with cloud migration and other resources to “demystify” the cloud for school systems.