• Despite tight budgets, schools implement computer security best practices and look to invest in cloud technologies; prioritize policies to mitigate social media risk

Panda Security, the Cloud Security Company, today announced the results of its inaugural Kindergarten-12 Education IT Security Study. The study, which surveyed more than 100 individuals that manage IT security at Kindergarten-12 (K-12) school districts in the United States, examines security practices and top security concerns in schools and school districts. With 63 percent of schools experiencing malware outbreaks or unauthorized user access at least twice a year, the results indicate that IT security is a resource-heavy, time-consuming effort that schools struggle to manage efficiently.

With malware on the rise and new threats propagated through social media every day, having the right security tools in schools has never been more important. According to the survey, 64 percent of schools have experienced significant downtime, reporting at least two incidents in the last year.

Schools also struggle to upgrade IT security systems, with 72 percent identifying budget constraints as the primary barrier to advancement, and 38 percent identifying a lack of staff for these initiatives. Twenty-nine percent indicate that the IT staff has other priorities that take precedent over IT security system upgrades.

“While the Internet is an invaluable tool for education, it can cause serious interruptions to day-to-day operations if schools fail to properly address security concerns,” said Rick Carlson, president of Panda Security US. “The findings of the Kindergarten-12 Education IT Security Study point to a clear need for a security solution that effectively balances cost, time management and superior protection.”

The study identifies the following key concerns for IT security in K-12 schools.

Security issues consume staff time, diverting attention from the business of education. IT administrative staff at 38 percent of schools report removing viruses or malware from IT systems a few times a week, and 21 percent are doing this daily.

While schools have baseline IT security best practices in place, there is still room for improvement. Ninety percent of schools install anti-virus and/or anti-malware on computers, but nearly 25 percent fail to use firewalls, block high-risk websites, or employ user authentication.

Social media is a top concern for schools, but the stringency of school policy varies greatly. Ninety-five percent of schools have a social media policy in place, citing the mitigation of malware-related risks as a main reason for implementation. Twenty-nine percent of schools allow students unlimited access to social media sites, while 32 percent deny students’ access altogether.

Schools recognize outside devices introduce external risks, but struggle to fully integrate security policies for multiple devices. Eighty-two percent of schools allow students and staff to connect personal computers and laptops to the school network, but only 74 percent are monitoring the use of external devices. Fifteen percent fail to take any additional security measures, leaving those school systems more vulnerable to infection.

Schools look to the cloud to improve IT infrastructure and recognize its benefits for security solutions. The majority of school IT administrators (91 percent) sees value in cloud-based technologies and plan to implement them in the next two years. So far, 32 percent have already adopted cloud-based security solutions, and 80 percent of respondents identified improved security as a primary reason to implement cloud-based security.

Managing security is a challenge further complicated by the budget cuts and staff reductions many school districts face. Panda Security recommends schools consider the following tips to optimize their security resources and improve levels of protection:

  • Invest in cloud-based security. Central threat databases in the cloud enable instantaneous protection from threats as they are identified. Consider adopting a cloud-based security solution like Panda Cloud Office Protection to enable instantaneous protection from the latest malware and other threats.
  • Require registration of outside devices. With the growing popularity of mobile devices such as iPhones, iPads and other tablet computers, and the ubiquity of laptops, it is important to deploy the same security measures as on-premise network machines.
  • Let technology do the leg work. According to the study, 30 percent of school IT administrators are spending more than 10 hours a month monitoring network activities to detect high risk behavior. Managed security services provide centralized management consoles that drastically decrease the time spent hunting for risks and implement proactive prevention measures, such as limiting access to high-risk websites and alerting administrators of malware attacks across a network.
  • Monitor social media access. With people spending more time on social media, it is no surprise it has also become a favorite tool among cybercriminals. Schools should consider a tiered access model to limit time spent on social media sites, reducing the advantages provided to cybercriminals to exploit vulnerabilities.
  • Institute security awareness education programs. Staff members and students are the last line of defense against cyber threats, so it’s important to keep school populations aware of the most common tactics employed to exploit users. PandaLabs is a handy resource for the latest on evolving IT security threats.