When it comes to IT, few environments are as difficult to manage as a school network. Security experts must grapple with numerous unique features, not the least of which includes the heavy traffic that the network sees every day. Combined with budget restraints and other features common to schools, keeping the network safe is no easy task.
Technology has had a tumultuous entrance into the American classroom, but it’s finally on the rise, especially now. Research by the University of Phoenix shows that before the pandemic hit, at least 63 percent of classes use digital technology daily. Although that’s great for education quality, it poses additional challenges for managing a school’s network security.
It’s more important that ever to adopt best practices as it is one way to keep a network secure no matter how many students or devices there are. Here are some of the best practices for school network security in 2020.
7 Best Practices for School Network Security in 2020
School districts can – and do – get hacked. In 2019, the Long Island School District was forced to pay $88,000 worth of bitcoins to hackers that locked up student records and staff information. Using network security best practices can help avoid a repeat of this. To keep a network safe:
1. Segment the Network
Segmenting the network refers to the creation of separate areas or portions to which people connect separately. Think of it like slicing a piece of pizza – there might be only one pizza, but everyone has his or her own piece. In network segmentation, the administrative office might have its own segment, while the library has another, while students may have yet another, a computer lab its own, and so on. This makes it difficult for unauthorized users to access more sensitive parts of the IT infrastructure – like that which houses student records.
2. Implement IP and Internet Filtering
With IP filtering, a network administrator can control what IP addresses are allowed onto a network – or network segment – and what ones aren’t. This adds an additional layer of security by refusing access to any student or guest device that isn’t already registered with the school. It also empowers school districts with the ability to apply internet filtering, blocking inappropriate or dangerous sites. Keep in mind, many schools are now implementing study from home, which adds another layer of security!
3. Configure EdTech and Other Tools Correctly
Education technology is becoming more popular as teachers see the value of bringing computers, tablets, or other devices into the classroom. However, each of these devices represents a point through which a user may access parts of the network that they shouldn’t. If the school is bringing technology on board, ensure that all devices are configured adequately before placing them into the hands of students.
4. Use a Framework
Frameworks exist to guide cybersecurity professionals in developing a strategy to keep a network safe. Many exist, such as the CIS Controls. This 20-step framework will walk network administrators through all the components involved in securing a network. This helps prevent things from being missed and creates an organized approach to security overall.
5. Develop Policies for Unsecured Devices
It’s the era of bringing your own device (BYOD) in schools, a philosophy that embraces student devices as more powerful and capable than what limited school budgets can provide. However, it’s incredibly difficult – if not impossible – to ensure that all of these devices are secure and not compromised with malware or worse. Therefore, if the school has determined that a BYOD approach is appropriate, make sure to create policies for these devices. This may include measures such as:
- Required connection to only specific network segments
- Login portals to associate devices with particular students
- Prohibiting the downloading of or massive data transfer over the network
6. Conduct Regular Network Assessments
Network assessments are a vital part of any network security plan, but schools can benefit from them. Since networks are dynamic environments, it’s not possible (or wise) to take a set-it-and-forget-it approach. Regular network assessments help spot problems or inefficiencies before they cause a problem, and therefore represent a preventative approach.
7. Work with a Managed Service Provider
Working with a managed service provider can prove cost-effective and efficient, especially if the school’s internal IT department is already overworked. With a managed provider, a school can access the technology, security, and expertise it needs to handle its network security competently. Consider this option if the campus experiences a particularly demanding or complicated IT environment.
School Network Security With a Smile
School network security is a challenging but crucial task for any educational institution. They must not only keep student and staff records safe from enterprising criminals but also account for bored or curious students who may feel like experimenting. By deploying the best practices for network security in 2020, school IT personnel can stay ahead of the many threats that the environment faces while empowering students with the best educational experience that technology can offer.
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