Modern classrooms integrate technology to help students to create an engaging, collaborative learning environment. During the pandemic, the use of technology to support fully remote or a hybrid learning environment was paramount to continuing to educate the nation’s children. However, during this time K-12 schools also experienced an increase in ransomware attacks. Even in a post-pandemic world, threat actors are targeting school districts of every size. K-12 schools are already working with limited resources, which can make it difficult to allocate resources to optimize cybersecurity preparedness. To find a way to make state-of-the-art cybersecurity solutions more affordable for school districts, Alameda County Office of Education partnered with Palo Alto Networks to provide its schools with budget-friendly, high-performance cybersecurity services.
Alameda County Office of Education needed a unique service to help ensure a safe learning environment for their schools. By partnering with Palo Alto Networks, district leaders were able to find a cybersecurity solution that fits their budget and the needs of their individual schools using a network-security-as-a-service model.
“Security is essential within education,” said Ryan Choate, Director III of IT Network Services at Alameda County Office of Education. “I think a lot of people don’t really consider cybersecurity at home as a potential threat. But at schools, we have to because we need to keep these kids protected. We need to give them a safe place to learn.”
With this platform, Alameda County Office of Education is able to manage all the school districts it supports through a single device. From this central device, they can see emergent and actual threats across all schools and districts in the county, enable next-generation firewalls, and customize permission levels and settings for each grade level.
“The whole goal of an IT department is to be able to support the safe and effective delivery of curriculum, resources, and services so that students can learn and grow,” said David Cumbow, Palo Alto Networks’ Principal Architect. “You’re not in this alone and you shouldn’t be expected to be the expert and have to understand all the threats that are coming at you… [By working with a trusted partner,] you can focus more on day-to-day operations and advancing your cybersecurity posture instead of constantly putting out the fires.”
This platform also empowers each district with the ability to customize their cybersecurity platform to meet their unique needs. Each district can access the full suite of platform features, including URL filtering, threat prevention, network security management software, and cloud-based threat analysis services. However, Alameda County Office of Education was able to secure these services at a fraction of the cost of a dedicated physical firewall by expanding their scope of protection.
In an interview, Dr. John Rubio, Superintendent at Emery Unified School District, explained the peace of mind he felt once Alameda County Office of Education helped them to integrate this platform at the school. “We’re a small school district so having the county support us is really helpful and important to us,” said Dr. Rubio. “As a superintendent, I don’t want to have to worry about whether or not the kids are safe when they’re on the Internet. Being with Palo Alto Networks and having a strong firewall allows me to be confident when I leave work every day that the kids are safe.”
Now Alameda County Office of Education is able to extend that protection to other government organizations to help make cybersecurity more affordable. Choate encouraged other organizations in Alameda County, such as libraries, municipalities, and public safety agencies, to sign on to this program as well. “Come on board and we’ll provide you with better security at a lower cost than you could get on your own, he shared.”
Ensuring security for students and faculty is paramount to the education process. By partnering with Palo Alto Networks, Alameda County Office of Education was able to provide high-performance cybersecurity without breaking the budget.
Learn more about ways to defend K-12 schools from ransomware attacks here.