New federal partnership looks to strengthen cybersecurity in Arizona schools
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — Cyber hackers are always looking for ways to break into vulnerable systems, demanding ransom to release sensitive records. Experts say public schools are an easy target. Now, the Arizona Department of Education is ramping up security. “A lot of schools don’t have a budget for cyber security,” said Lt. Col. Leslie King of the Arizona Army National Guard.
Cyber attacks, often carried out by Russian hacker groups, are increasing worldwide. The latest attack hit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, compromising information belonging to more than 100,000 people. “We create a report for the school district so that they can see what their vulnerabilities are and make recommendations to mediate them,” King said.
Hackers often prey on government agencies, seeking personal and financial information. But what about attacks targeting kids? “From a threat perspective, if I can gain access to a person’s name, date of birth, Social Security number, parent’s name, I can then open a bank account using that person’s identity,” King said.
The Arizona Department of Education is partnering with the Department of Emergency and Military Affairs’ cyber joint task force. The goal is to strengthen online security in Arizona’s school districts. “Most parents don’t check on their students’ credit scores or credit ratings while their children. So that gives a threat actor five to 10 years of access to their information before red flags start to pop up,” King said.
“It’s very important to have cyber security because we have records of 1,100,000 students,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne said. Horne says from 2016-2022, there have been 1,600 cyber attacks impacting K-12 schools nationwide. Now, the 670 school districts in the state can participate. “This makes sure they are protected, at no cost to them, no cost to us. The federal government provides it for free. It’s quick and it’s very efficient,” said Horne.
The assessment takes about two weeks for each district. “We look at patches, what is the operating system that they’re currently using, administrative passwords. We’re able to come in and show them where their vulnerabilities are and hopefully block out bad guys from gaining access to student records,” King said.
If a school district is interested in being assessed, it is at no cost to them or taxpayers. Districts can opt-in by completing a form they can get by emailing email@example.com.
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