Cybersecurity as a subject in schools

The recent pandemic and digital growth have replaced pen and paper. Kids are now using digital devices more regularly instead of pen and paper.

School & home networks are easy targets for cybercriminals though kids as kids are part of the same network. There are threats both internal and external that can infringe and endanger institutions, students, and their homes. Such attacks can spell havoc on students, staff, faculty, parents, and administrators.

Leaders in the education sector should take a proactive approach by prioritizing important changes in how they protect their student’s and staff’s personal data. Having a proactive game plan, schools can thwart potential attacks by prioritizing key areas to limit the damage that can be inflicted by an inevitable cyber threat.
Education institutions should include cybersecurity curriculum from 6th grade /middle school onward being important digital education. Despite the sector facing major challenges such as a lack of staffing and a lack of funding and resources, cyberattacks are no less frequent or less severe in education. In fact, they seem to be gaining ground in prevalence year-on-year as instances of breaches in schools and higher education are widely reported.
Educational institutions, specifically public K-12 schools, provide the soft targets that hackers are seeking.

Why are kids and students targeted?
Cybercriminals are unprincipled and student data is considered good data to acquire. There are insider threats and overzealous or careless students who could unleash havoc on school operations.

Hacker with a laptop sits at the table, dark background and pink neon light behind, head covered with a hood.

Cybersecurity incidents at schools can lead to trouble for all including administration, students, and faculty. Some top outcomes that schools need to avoid include

  • Unauthorized disclosure of student data
  • Breaches that disturb operational processes
  • Phishing that gets access to credentials and potential misuse
  • Damage to existing systems. Ransomware could be a threat depending on the institution

For the next couple of years, humans might possibly be the weakest link in any cyberattack. While the workforce may be getting skilled and aware of cyberattacks, kids still lack digital health and security posture understanding.

They can unknowingly expose themselves to unwanted risks. Today, cybersecurity is a matter of prime importance at a global level. It’s time to consider it being taught as part of the curriculum in schools.

Kids today are digitally wired and interconnected. Smartphones, video games, consoles, smart TVs, and laptops are part of a staple diet in the daily life of the kid. The number of smartphone-carrying kids in drastically increasing. Computers are a basic necessity at school and homes for projects, research or more. They frequently download apps and play online games. Social networks target them for business purposes.

What’s to be done?
We need to equip and educate children on the perils of cyberattacks and being potential targets. This calls for an initiative that needs a lot of planning and preparation. Such an initiative needs to be implemented at a government level and in collaboration with the industry and academia. But the calling for the need for cybersecurity as a subject will only be serious if conveyed by the government machinery.

At an execution level, success might boil down to training teachers, who possibly are themselves unaware of threats on the digital landscape.
Training courses that are approved and recognized by the government can be initiated through government and industry partnerships. The mission must be for academic institutions to be able to incorporate cybersecurity independently into their curriculum and game plan.

A critical insight to consider is the initiation of the internet to the kids. They need to be educated and made aware of the dangers of accessing the internet at the very beginning. Here’s where the support needs to be provided. The family environment might have to work in tandem with the school in playing this role of the initial exposure to cybersecurity and its importance.

Allied Digital is a leading IT managed services provider with a presence in more than 70 countries. The company provides cybersecurity services to several organizations around the world.

The author Kapil Mehta is CFO and COO at Allied Digital Services.