IT Infrastructure

Stopping Cyberattacks Is Top Priority for Ed-Tech Leaders. But Many Underestimate the Risk

By Alyson Klein — April 26, 2022 4 min read
Images shows a symbolic lock on a technical background.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Cybersecurity remains the top priority for K-12 technology leaders, even though many continue to underestimate the risk attackers pose to their districts, concludes a survey by the Consortium for School Networking.

Despite increases in the severity of attacks, most ed-tech leaders rate common threats as just low or medium risk, according to the annual survey by CoSN, which represents school district IT officials.

What’s more, most districts don’t have the resources in place to dedicate a specific staff member to securing their networks. And that problem could worsen, given new stresses on district IT staff spurred by the pandemic, and a possible uptick in retirements of school district technology staff members, the report notes.

“As cyberattacks become more sophisticated, greater expertise is needed to combat them, and the demand for those skills increases,” the report says. But it points out that school districts aren’t likely to be able to offer the higher salaries that would attract IT workers with cybersecurity expertise.

In fact, just one in five school districts—21 percent—have a staff member dedicated to cybersecurity, according to the survey. Another 21 percent of districts outsource management of network security to private providers or public entities, a percentage that’s likely to grow, the report concluded.

See Also

Image shows a glowing futuristic background with lock on digital integrated circuit.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Privacy & Security Explainer School Cyberattacks, Explained
Alyson Klein, February 11, 2022
12 min read

Only half of districts surveyed said they require cybersecurity training for teachers and all other staff. And nearly a third say they don’t have training requirements for any staff members—a finding that the report called “alarming,” given attackers’ tendency to “understand human behavior.”

If employees aren’t trained to spot potential problems, they might miss clear signs of a potential phishing attempt, such as a typo or irregularity in the address line of an email purporting to be from a district superintendent.

A slight majority of school districts—62 percent—reported they’ve purchased cybersecurity insurance, the survey found. But, interestingly, about one in six school district tech leaders said they didn’t know whether their district had such insurance.

That’s potentially problematic because many policies require districts to have certain safeguards in place—such as multifactor authentication for logins and training for staff members—to purchase the coverage or access it in the event of an attack. If the insurance runs through another department—such as the finance office—it could be tough for tech leaders to make sure the district is following through on the technological aspects of those agreements.

Meanwhile, staffing levels for district IT departments, always a challenge, are under new strains. District tech leaders across the country have been asked to take on more work as school systems have purchased more devices and are using technology more extensively in teaching and learning than ever before.

More than half of the survey respondents— 52 percent—said that they lack adequate staffing to help teachers make the most out of the increasing availability of digital learning devices in the classroom. And a similar percentage—51 percent—said they don’t have enough staff to provide support to students and families using the devices at home.

These pressures could soon be compounded as the tech leader workforce—mostly professionals who are ages 40 to 60—eyeing retirement, the report notes.

Fifty-three percent of teachers are planning to retire earlier than they anticipated because of the stress brought on by the pandemic, according to a recent survey by the National Education Association, stoking fears about massive numbers of unfilled positions in some districts. A similar tidal wave of retirements appears less likely among K-12 tech leaders, but there may still be staffing challenges on the horizon, the CoSN report says.

Twelve percent of tech leaders surveyed said they were planning to retire earlier than they initially planned, as a direct result of the pandemic. Another 3 percent said they were delaying retirement, also because of the pandemic. But the vast majority—85 percent —report that their retirement plans remain unchanged.

More worrisome: More than half of respondents said they plan to retire sometime in the next ten years, though the actual target dates vary significantly. One in five respondents expect to retire in three to five years, while another 23 percent are shooting for within six to ten years. Just 11 percent expect to retire sometime in the next two years.

In general, the timing of these planned retirements was closely linked to the respondents’ age, with older tech leaders expecting to retire sooner. One surprising finding: Nearly one in ten tech leaders who are ages 40-49 plan to retire in the next five years.

The survey—which generated more than 1,500 responses—was administered from Jan. 11 to Feb. 28 of this year.

Events

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.
Sponsor
IT Management Webinar
Build a Digitally Responsive Educational Organization for Effective Digital-Age Learning
Chart a guided pathway to digital agility and build support for your organization’s mission and vision through dialogue and collaboration.
Content provided by Bluum
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.
Sponsor
Data Webinar
Drive Instruction With Mastery-Based Assessment
Deliver the right data at the right time—in the right format—and empower better decisions.
Content provided by Instructure
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.
Sponsor
Teaching Profession Webinar
How Does Educator Well-Being Impact Social-Emotional Awareness in Schools?
Explore how adult well-being is key to promoting healthy social-emotional behaviors for students. Get strategies to reduce teacher stress.
Content provided by International Baccalaureate

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

IT Infrastructure Internet on School Buses: FCC Eyes E-Rate Change to Expand Access
FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel announced a proposal that would allow the use of federal E-rate funding for Wi-Fi in school buses.
2 min read
A Brownsville Independent School District bus acts as a Wi-Fi hotspot for students needing to connect online for distance learning at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year in the Texas school system.
A Brownsville Independent School District bus acts as a WI-FI hotspot for students needing to connect online for distance learning on the first day of class Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020, in the parking lot of the Margaret M. Clark Aquatic Center in Brownsville, Texas. The bus is one of 20 hotspots throughout the city to help students have access to their online classes as part of the remote start to the school year due to COVID-19 pandemic.
Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald via AP
IT Infrastructure Spotlight Spotlight on Infrastructure Modernization
This Spotlight will help you grasp the reality of school infrastructure, parent privacy concerns, watchdog recommendations and more.
IT Infrastructure The Infrastructure Bill Includes Billions for Broadband. What It Would Mean for Students
Students who struggle to access the internet at home may get some relief through $65 billion in funding for broadband, approved by Congress in the new infrastructure bill.
2 min read
Chromebooks, to be loaned to students in the Elk Grove Unified School District, await distribution at Monterey Trail High School in Elk Grove, Calif., on April 2, 2020.
Even as school-issued devices such as Chromebooks, shown above, have proliferated in the pandemic, many students still lack internet access at home, putting them at a disadvantage for completing homework assignments.
Rich Pedroncelli/AP
IT Infrastructure Privacy Group Cautions Schools on Technology That Flags Children at Risk of Self-Harm
Software that scans students’ online activity and flags children believed to be at risk of self-harm comes with significant risks, a new report warns.
6 min read
Conceptual image of students walking on data symbols.
Laura Baker/Education Week and Orbon Alija/E+