Why School Boards Should Develop Cybersecurity Standards

Lena Eisenstein
6 min read
Local governments and other public institutions have faced more cybersecurity attacks and scams in recent years. However, school districts are especially appealing to hackers because of the amount of private data they possess. Districts often do not have the appropriate security resources to ward off intruders, making them an easy target. Maintaining cybersecurity standards for your school district can protect sensitive data related to students and district business.

Local school boards are prone to cybersecurity attacks. There is a lot to learn from the various experiences of other districts that have been attacked or hacked, and this can educate school boards on how to make proactive decisions regarding cybersecurity standards.

School boards play a critical role in developing cybersecurity standards for the district to protect sensitive data related to district business and student information. Boards can take several actions to prevent, mitigate, and respond to cybersecurity threats. These cybersecurity standards can be implemented before, during, and after an event.

Cybersecurity Standards for School Boards to Follow

  1. Do not store sensitive information on 'the cloud.'

Storage on a public cloud (like Google) is easy, but it is bad cybersecurity practice. When it comes to sensitive data the information should be stored on a private secure server and on sites with high-level encryption (256-bit encryption is the strongest level of security currently available).

Many cloud-based sites put non-public information at risk. These data breaches may be unintentional, or could be a result from weaknesses of the applications that are used to access the cloud or other ineffective cybersecurity standards.

BoardDocs is a cloud-based school board management software, but unlike many cloud-based services, it boasts physically secure servers (that are video monitored) and 256-bit encryption, the strongest level of encryption currently available. These elements ensure privacy and security for your board's most confidential and sensitive data.

  1. Have a recovery plan.

Data loss may seem harmless or simple compared to being hacked or any other cybersecurity attack, but data loss can be just as devastating for a school district. Having a backup system in place to restore full performance and function in the event of sensitive data exposure or loss is imperative to protecting and maintaining sensitive data related to the students and district business.

A board management software that encrypts all data, features automatic archiving in the 'Library' function, and has a daily backup service to help mitigate risks related to sensitive data loss or exposure, can help school boards reach sounder cybersecurity standards. Having a plan for worst-case scenarios is imperative to implementing cybersecurity standards.

  1. Know who to report a threat to.

What if a member of staff pays for an invoice that turns out to be from a fraudulent e-mail account? A Kentucky school district fell victim to a scam in which $3.7 million dollars was lost.

Staff, school board members, and the community need to know how a cybersecurity incident, like a data breach or phishing scam, should be reported.

The district's IT manager or team, district technological and leadership teams, and certain law enforcement agencies may need to be notified. So, create a flow chart of the individuals or agencies that need to be notified based upon the scam or incident that occurs to include in the districts cybersecurity standards.

Be sure that this information is available to all district staff and board members. The faster that individuals are able to report these incidents, the more easily the issue can be mitigated.

  1. Move from paper documents to digital records.

While utilizing physical copies of records and information seems easier, it is far less secure than maintaining digital materials. If someone attaches or downloads a digital document, there is some digital trace of that information and the digital transaction.

If your school board shares a hard copy of sensitive data to each board member and someone takes that hard copy home with them, there are limitless scenarios in which that information can be inadvertently exposed. More importantly, that information is untraceable once that hard copy is lost.

Even downloading and maintaining documents on a hard drive can open up the school board to sensitive data exposure. Files on the hard drive of any device are still susceptible to malicious hackers who can infiltrate the device's system.

Utilizing BoardDocs, a Diligent brand, digital documents are stored and accessible from any device using robust user-authentication security. Documents can be attached to meeting agendas, events, goal-setting features, and stored in the 'Library' function. When developing cybersecurity standards, be sure to include notes regarding how documents should be shared and accessed by staff and administrators. Discourage printing physical copies of sensitive information or downloading student records onto one's hard drive.

  1. Do not use e-mail for school board business.

E-mail is technically 'digital communication,' but it is the least effective and secure form of digital communication for school boards. E-mails and your attachments are not encrypted or completely secure. Additionally, e-mail communication between school board members regarding board work can be a violation of Open Meeting Laws, so it is imperative school board members tread lightly when it comes to e-mail communication.

Be sure to include specific language in the cybersecurity standards regarding e-mail communication for the school district to ensure that staff, students, and administrators know what information should never be shared through e-mail.

  1. Develop and promote policies regarding cybersecurity standards.

We've discussed several practices that should be addressed throughout the district with staff, students, and administrators, whether it be communicating via e-mail, physical copies of sensitive information, or storing sensitive information on an unsecure 'cloud.'

Implementing district-wide policies that encourage responsible use of school technology and networks is an effective way to ensure that standards are met. Educating students and staff on cybersecurity standards and why these standards are critical in protecting district and student information is vital to cultivating a culture that shares value in safeguarding the district and larger community.

Utilizing the right school board management system, school boards can share policies regarding cybersecurity standards for continuous reference by the public, staff, or administrators (or all three!). If your board wishes to host a training on cybersecurity standards, the information related to the event can be shared through BoardDocs for referral.

School Board Management Software That Promotes Cybersecurity Standards

When school boards are utilizing board management software, it is imperative that they look at the features and capabilities of the software that supports the district's cybersecurity standards.

The cybersecurity features and functions of BoardDocs helps support an efficient, effective, and successful school board. Ensuring that your board's information is protected and secure means that your board has more time and energy to spend on other important issues.

With the right technology partner, school boards can promote and support strong cybersecurity standards. BoardDocs' security and features support and promote cybersecurity practices that protect the sensitive information of your district and your students. Maintaining secure and encrypted digital records, strong recovery methods, and a secure cloud network encourage a culture of strong cybersecurity standards.