Independent and private schools face unique cybersecurity threats
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Independent and private schools face unique cybersecurity threats

The more than 30,000 private and independent K–12 schools in the U.S. vary widely in size and budget. While some use government programs like E-rate to fund technology, most rely on tuition and donations from alumni, nonprofits, foundations and corporations.

RELATED: Schools can use E-rate funds to improve cybersecurity.

Some independent and private schools can only afford to hire one staff member to manage IT and educational technology for the entire school. Others, with deeper pockets, may have enough funds to hire a large IT team and implement cutting-edge technology and cybersecurity, says Ashley Cross, senior director of education and content at the Association of Technology Leaders in Independent Schools (ATLIS).

He added that independent and private schools face unique challenges with cybersecurity because if their data is compromised, it could have a negative impact on their reputation, which in turn could impact their future student enrollment.

“Independent schools keep student records, but they also stay in touch with alumni to build community and donor relationships,” Cross says. “So they have to think about the life-long record of voters, which is a very different challenge than public schools.”

In addition, independent schools that host international students must also comply with data protection laws in other countries, such as the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, he added.

Private school takes comprehensive approach to cybersecurity

Valerio, a cybersecurity architect and ethical hacker, consults with private, independent, and public schools to assess their cybersecurity posture. One of the main issues he sees is a lack of IT training.

Schools are installing data center hardware, but some aren’t investing in professional development to ensure IT administrators know how to maintain the hardware. Some schools aren’t regularly installing the latest firmware or software patches. He recommends they do, but when he checks in months later, many still haven’t.

LEARN MORE: How automated patch management supports cybersecurity in K–12 schools.

“The problem is that once someone hacks them, it’s too late,” he says.

At Westminster Christian School, Valerio practices what he preaches. He receives the budget he needs from the CFO and invests in training and security tools to develop the processes and procedures needed to protect the school’s IT infrastructure and data.