Privacy & Security

It Takes an Entire District to Prevent a Cyberattack: 5 Tips

By Lauraine Langreo — February 15, 2023 3 min read
underground cyber security hologram with digital shield 3D rendering
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

K-12 district technology leaders know what steps they need to take in order to protect their network systems from cyberattacks.

They’ve seen news report after news report about another district falling victim to a cyberattack. They know one day their district could be next. They’ve implemented guidance from the federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and other cybersecurity organizations about how to lessen their risks.

But one of the most vexing challenges, some district technology leaders emphasize, is getting the rest of the district—all staff, parents, and students—to follow cybersecurity policies and best practices.

“Not to lessen or underestimate the technical things that are required, but so much of managing security is more about those human management things,” said Rod Russeau, the director of technology and information services for Illinois’ Community High School District 99.

Patricia Brown, the director of technology for Missouri’s Ladue school district, agreed: “Some may view security measures as burdensome and intrusive to their daily work processes, leading to a reluctance to implement them.”

The reality is that cybersecurity policies and best practices won’t reduce the risk of cyberattacks if no one is following them. Here are five tips from Russeau and Brown on how to get buy-in from everyone in the district:

1. Start with the leadership team

“It’s essential to get the leadership team on board with the cybersecurity policies,” Brown said. “If they are not committed to it, it will be challenging to get buy-in from others.”

Talk to the leadership team often about the importance of cybersecurity. Engage them early when creating mitigation plans. Explain the risks and potential consequences of a security breach and the importance of having strong policies and practices in place.

District technology leaders can provide plans and figure out the risks, but “leadership is ultimately accountable for everything that happens in the school district,” Rousseau said.

See Also

Hacker attack and data breach, information leak and cybersecurity concept.
iStock/Getty Images Plus

2. Get everyone involved in the process

Ensure that all district staff, educators, administrators, and even students, are involved in the development of the policies and best practices. Involving all stakeholders leads to policies that are practical, relevant, and that everyone feels they have had input into creating, Brown said.

For example, Russeau said tech leaders can go through an exercise with district staff “to identify critical assets,” which could “open the door” for staff to think about other strategies that could be added to a district’s incident response plan.

3. Communicate in simple language and avoid cybersecurity technical jargon

When explaining the policies and best practices, make sure to use clear and simple language and avoid jargon, so that everyone can understand them, Brown said. District technology leaders should also explain the benefits of the policies, such as the protection of sensitive information. “This can help build support for the policies,” she added.

Although some policies “can be annoying,” it’s important to remind district staff, students, and parents that the policies and best practices are there to protect them and their data, Russeau said.

4. Provide training on how to prevent cyberattacks

Russeau and Brown underscored the importance of educating staff, students, and parents on the importance of cybersecurity and the new policies and best practices. Districts should also provide training on how to identify and prevent cyber threats.

One example would be conducting an email phishing awareness campaign regularly and providing resources to those who are not that successful at identifying phishing emails, Russeau said.

5. Enforce the policies consistently

Finally, it’s essential to enforce the policies consistently, they said.

“If there are no consequences for violating the policies, they will not be taken seriously,” Brown said. “Enforcing the policies will help demonstrate the importance of cybersecurity and encourage everyone to follow the rules.”

When Russeau’s district sends out fake phishing emails as part of its cybersecurity awareness campaign, employees who click on those emails are prompted to participate in mini-training on cybersecurity best practices.

See Also

Illustration of an open laptop with a red envelope attached to a fishing hook.
iStock/Getty Images Plus


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Attend to the Whole Child: Non-Academic Factors within MTSS
Learn strategies for proactively identifying and addressing non-academic barriers to student success within an MTSS framework.
Content provided by Renaissance
Classroom Technology K-12 Essentials Forum How to Teach Digital & Media Literacy in the Age of AI
Join this free event to dig into crucial questions about how to help students build a foundation of digital literacy.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Privacy & Security Quiz
Quiz Yourself: How Much Do You Know About Cybersecurity For Schools And Districts?
Answer 6 questions about actionable cybersecurity solutions.
Content provided by FlexPoint Education Cloud
Privacy & Security What Schools Need to Know About These Federal Data-Privacy Bills
Congress is considering at least three data-privacy bills that could have big implications for schools.
5 min read
Photo illustration of a key on a digital background of zeros and ones.
Privacy & Security A New Federal Taskforce Targets Cybersecurity in Schools
The “government coordinating council" aims to provide training, policies, and best practices.
3 min read
Illustration of computer and lock.
iStock / Getty Images Plus
Privacy & Security Q&A Why One Tech Leader Prioritizes Explaining Student Data Privacy to Teachers
Jun Kim, the director of technology for an Oklahoma school district, helped build a statewide database of vetted learning platforms.
3 min read
Jun Kim, Director of Technology for Moore Public Schools, poses for a portrait outside the Center for Technology on Dec. 13, 2023 in Moore, Okla.
Jun Kim, is the director of technology for the Moore school district in Moore, Okla., He has made securing student data a priority for the district and the state.
Brett Deering for Education Week