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US Education Department Urged to Boost K-12 Schools’ Ransomware Defenses

A recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found the Education Department’s current plan for addressing K-12 school cyber threats to be significantly outdated. Now, US Senators Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) are asking for increased protection from cyber-attacks. They are requesting the US Department of Education and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to aggressively strengthen cybersecurity protections at K-12 schools across the nation. Cyber-attacks against K-12 schools have steadily risen over the last three years and without intervention or further protection, K-12 schools will continue to be at risk.

Analyst Notes

The GAO advised the Department of Education to coordinate with the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) to decide how to better protect the nation’s education system. Recommendations to protect against ransomware for all organizations include:
• Regularly back up data, air gap, and password protect backup copies offline.
• Ensure copies of critical data are not accessible for modification or deletion from the system where the data resides.
• Implement network segmentation.
• Implement a recovery plan to maintain and retain multiple copies of sensitive or proprietary data and servers in a physically separate, segmented, secure location (i.e., hard drive, storage device, the cloud).
• Install updates/patch operating systems, software, and firmware as soon as practical after they are released. Implement monitoring of security events on employee workstations and servers, with a 24/7 Security Operations Center to detect threats and respond quickly.
• Use multifactor authentication where possible.
• Use strong passwords and regularly change passwords to network systems and accounts, implementing the shortest acceptable timeframe for password changes.
• Avoid reusing passwords for multiple accounts.
• Focus on cyber security awareness and training.
• Regularly provide users with training on information security principles and techniques as well as overall emerging cybersecurity risks and vulnerabilities.