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What Educators Need to Know About Cybersecurityby@zacamos
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What Educators Need to Know About Cybersecurity

by Zac AmosJanuary 27th, 2024
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Both teachers and students face increased cybersecurity risks. Teachers should be trained in threat identification, threat detection, incident response, and recovery, since teachers are the first line of defense before IT can take over. It's important to teach cybersecurity to all grade levels, though techniques and details should vary between elementary, middle, and high school students.
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The education sector has left decades-old textbooks and loose-leaf paper behind in favor of screens and keyboards. While educators have never had to stress the importance of cybersecurity before, times have changed. Are schools prepared to handle the ever-evolving threats that accompany digitalization?

What Is Cybersecurity in Education?

Cybersecurity is the protection of networks and technology from cyberattacks and cyber threats. In education, it involves defending educators, students, and school systems from malicious tampering and attacks. It prioritizes preserving online safety and safeguarding digital assets.


How is cybersecurity different from data privacy? While the first prioritizes data protection, the latter focuses on preserving confidentiality. While many teachers know how to hide their personal details — they work with curious children, after all — few are well-versed in security.

Should Cybersecurity be Taught in Schools?

While teachers may hesitate to embrace the responsibility for teaching cybersecurity, it is vital. As schools progressed into the digital age, they’ve adopted technologies that can be hacked, tracked, and attacked. This new education style demands change.


Digitalization doesn’t just increase convenience — it makes schools vulnerable to modern threats. Research shows around 80% of K-12 schools were hit by ransomware in 2023, up from 56% in 2022. Despite paying $750,000 per incident on average, only 47% got their data back.


Education institutions aren’t the only ones affected. In 2020, nearly 1,200 K-12 students were impacted by a ransomware attack — compromising their accounts and data security. As cyberattacks become more frequent, schools must strengthen their cybersecurity posture.


Even though every K-12 student is now a digital native, many don’t know the first thing about cybersecurity. Modern technology is built for the user experience and convenience — meaning most are unfamiliar with the complex technical side of things.

Why Is Cybersecurity Important for Teachers?

Technology has done wonders for schools across the nation. In fact, 33% of public institutions believe it helps students learn independently. Digitalization is becoming fundamental, meaning teachers should recognize cybersecurity now plays a major role in education.


Students are technically one of the biggest risks to a school’s cybersecurity posture. Frankly, dozens of students armed with computers can do a lot of damage. For example, they can use a VPN to evade the school’s network restrictions, opening their devices to malware.


That said, the responsibility to maintain online safety and safeguard digital assets doesn’t fall square on their shoulders. In reality, it is a joint effort between teachers and students. After all, educators are in a unique position to instill crucial knowledge about the digital world.


Not to mention, teachers face an increased cybersecurity risk. Mischievous students may think exposing their personal information online is funny. Even in the best-case scenario, educators still have numerous work and personal devices, expanding their attack surface.


What does cybersecurity for teachers look like? It revolves around awareness — it’s important they have some knowledge of online safety and asset protection. Additionally, they should be aware of cyberattacks targeting the education sector.

The Cybersecurity Basics Every Classroom Needs

If educators know the cybersecurity best practices, they can keep themselves and their schools safe. Since 97% of K-12 students have an internet connection at home, their bad habits might make their way into the classroom. Early intervention with education is essential.


Threat identification is the first cybersecurity fundamental. Teachers should know why and how hackers target the education sector to prepare themselves for potential cyberattacks. Being able to recognize targets can help them strengthen their classrooms’ defenses.


The second fundamental is threat detection. While the IT staff will handle the technical side of things, teachers and students should understand how to spot indicators of compromise. More importantly, they should know how to report the incident.


Incident response is the third cybersecurity fundamental. Again, the IT team will handle the technical details. However, teachers’ and students’ jobs aren’t over yet. Whether they immediately change their passwords or turn off their devices, they should know how to react.


The last fundamental is recovery. After a cyberattack or data breach, schools are vulnerable. Teachers and students must work together to identify what went wrong and how to prevent it from happening again. What they learn from the situation can protect them in the future.

How Can Teachers Integrate Cybersecurity into Education?

While teachers can get their message across by standing at the front of the classroom and talking for 45 minutes, there are better approaches to raising cybersecurity awareness. For one, they can host parent-teacher conferences to stress the importance of online safety.


Teachers can also have quick refreshers at the beginning of class. For example, they can give updates on the latest cyberattacks targeting the education sector. Alternatively, they can write a cybersecurity fact of the day on the smart board.


If educators don’t have enough time to work cybersecurity lessons into their everyday routine, they can provide resources instead. They can put up cybersecurity-related posters, send monthly emails about best practices, or have a shared document that acts as a guide.


There are numerous ways to implement cybersecurity awareness in the classroom to accommodate any learning environment. No matter what their schedules look like, teachers can find the time to fit a lesson, tip, or cautionary tale in.

How Can Teachers Improve Their School’s Cybersecurity?

Teachers don’t need to be security experts to improve their schools’ cybersecurity posture.

Elementary Students

Why is cybersecurity awareness important for children? Put simply, it’s vital because they’re growing up in the digital age. Learning at a young age helps them develop foundational habits they will have for life. This way, they’re better prepared for additional teachings.


Even though children can’t grasp the finer details, teachers shouldn’t underestimate them. They should teach “stranger danger” to stress online safety and prevent phishing mishaps. Device care is another staple — a lost computer is a massive security risk.

Middle School Students

Middle school students can learn more advanced lessons. Teachers should explain the dangers of poor cybersecurity posture and how risky online behavior can permanently impact them. They should know never to share account information with friends and to always protect their privacy.


Teachers should also make cybersecurity best practices a priority. Middle schoolers should know to always use strong passwords, update their devices, and tell an adult if their accounts get compromised. Also, they should learn to never click on suspicious links.


While raising awareness can help, every middle school teacher knows better than to trust their students will always be responsible. Naturally, a monitoring tool is one of the best solutions. It can track their online behavior and flag potentially dangerous actions.

High School Students

High school students should learn advanced cybersecurity techniques. They should take responsibility for their online and account safety by monitoring access attempts, backing up data, and immediately reporting indicators of compromise themselves.

Cybersecurity Is Now an Essential Part of Education

Teachers have dealt with a lot in recent years — pandemic-prompted distance learning, the mess of standardized tests, and a rapidly evolving education system have made things hectic. Although adding cybersecurity awareness training to their responsibilities seems like a lot to ask, it’s a natural development.


As the education sector and digitalization become more entwined, teachers will have to prioritize cybersecurity. Truthfully, it’s one of the best ways to protect themselves, their students, and their classrooms from cyber threats, data breaches, and cyberattacks. Their commitment to raising awareness will pay off when personally identifiable data and digital assets remain secure.