Many schools take advantage of the Universal Service Program for Schools and Libraries (E-Rate) to provide funding for critical IT services like firewalls. A recent report found that ransomware attacks on K-12 schools have risen to 80 percent in 2023, which is 56 percent higher than last year. Despite this, access to funding for essential cybersecurity resources is still falling behind. In response, the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) recently announced that it plans to update its E-Rate program by investing $200M over three years to boost school and library cybersecurity. This means that schools will have more runway now to cover security gaps in their tools set beyond the traditional eligible E-Rate services.
1. Keep Current Cyber Trends in Mind
In the past, on-premises security solutions were effective at defending schools from cyber threats. However, since the pandemic, hybrid learning methods have become a normal part of many schools, which has resulted in more endpoints that can be exploited by threat actors. To combat this, districts need to consider services outside of threat prevention that would enable better firewall and VPN protection regardless of the learning environment. These services could include DNS and Malware Sandboxing.
“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 [the threats to] cybersecurity at home… But at schools, we have to because we need to keep these kids protected. We need to give them a safe place to learn.”
2. Use Automation to Expand Resources
Threat actors are using automation to gain more efficiency in attacking schools. Meanwhile, schools continue to struggle to overcome workforce challenges, whether that’s having the right number of cybersecurity staff or the right level of expertise. In an interview with Today’s Modern Educator, Fadi Fadhil, Palo Alto Networks’ Chief Information Officer, Director of Field Strategy, explained that this calls for a shift in strategy towards tactical cybersecurity.
”That’s where improving visibility and response through automation, incident response, and attack surface management becomes a winning formula that applies to all school districts, regardless of their size and where they’re at in their cybersecurity journey,” Fadhil said. “These are powerful elements to accent the capabilities backed by the E-Rate funding program where experts like Palo Alto Networks can help schools get ahead and stay ahead of emerging threats.”
When integrated correctly, automation can help IT teams to maximize their investments in technology to make the most balanced ecosystem within their funding reach. By automating 80 to 90 percent of routine cybersecurity tasks, IT teams can focus on more complex activities and can help them build a proactive – and far more robust – cybersecurity posture.
3. Collaborate to Overcome Challenges
To respond more rapidly to constant drumbeat of ransomware attacks, the Cybersecurity Infrastructure & Security Agency (CISA) recommends that schools collaborate by participating in information sharing forums and partner with cybersecurity industry experts. Utilizing E-Rate can help schools meet CISA’s recommendations without overstretching their existing budget. Collaboration helps create a united front so that schools can overcome resource challenges and better protect students.
“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… [Work with] trusted partners to help you get these devices implemented properly. That way, once they’re implemented, you can focus more on day-to-day operations and advancing your cybersecurity posture instead of putting out the fires.”
To learn about Palo Alto Networks’ eligible E-Rate programs, download the brochure here.