11:25 AM

Schools' Cybersecurity Needs Improvement

While more than half of surveyed schools reported a breach last year, 75% say their security infrastructure is adequate.

Although school districts have moved toward improving network and building security, a rise in breaches has caused overall school IT security to drop, CDW Government's School Safety Index found.

In the past year, 55% of U.S. school districts reported breaches, including unauthorized user access and hacking or viruses, CDW Government said Monday. Sixty-seven percent of districts reported break-ins, unauthorized visitors, vandalism, or other physical breaches, according to the index. Nevertheless, 75% of respondents reported that their cybersecurity and physical security infrastructures were adequate.

The index, which reflects a national survey of more than 400 district IT and security directors, found that 41% of IT security breaches were caused by students and 22% by staff. Unidentified perpetrators (42%) and students (37%) cause most physical breaches, according to the index.

"Districts reported gains in important areas such as securing buildings and networks, but many are missing the opportunity to counter increased breaches by sharing best practices with other districts and engaging district administrators regularly on security priorities and investments," Bob Kirby, VP of K-12 education at CDW-G, said in a statement released Monday.

Eighty-eight percent of districts use wireless networks for student access to the Internet and online learning tools, and 65% of schools that don't have a wireless network are considering or are implementing one within the next year. Ninety-two percent of districts use data encryption.

The Grades Are In

On a rating scale of zero to 100, the 2009 national cybersecurity average for schools is 22.2.

Most districts have acceptable-use policies, according to CDW, but just 40% actively enforce them. Forty percent reported spending less than four hours monthly to review questionable Internet activity.

The national physical security average for schools is 32.3%. The number of schools using security cameras has risen from 70% in 2008 to 79% this year, but half only use them for outside areas.

The School Safety Index also found that 36% of districts allow local emergency response personnel to view camera footage in real time, and 24% plan to do so in the next 12 months. Seventy percent of districts said they use mass notification systems to enhance safety communications. That's up from 45% in 2008. Forty-six percent of districts that do not have mass notifications now are considering such a system in the next year.

Districts' top IT and physical security barriers are the same as they were last year. They include lack of adequate funding, staff and security tools.

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