MITRE Engenuity. PHOTO: Cybercrime Magazine.

How K-12 Schools Can Solve Their Top 10 Cybersecurity Challenges

IT leaders can overcome obstacles through the right platform, people and process combination

Michael Newell, Cynet Security

Boston, Mass. – May 5, 2024

Students aren’t alone in having their skills tested in K-12 schools. Education-sector IT teams face mounting pressure to provide cost-effective cybersecurity as threat actors increasingly focus on schools as “easy targets” with extensive access to sensitive data.

The 10 security challenges most commonly experienced by K-12 schools are covered below. Solutions for each challenge are explained in more depth by Cynet’s new guide, “Top 10 Cybersecurity Challenges Faced by K-12 Institutions.” In addition to sector best practices, the guidance is based on Cynet’s successful collaborations with schools like Goshen Community Schools in the U.S. or Wigmore School Academy Trust in the UK, as well as high-ed leaders like Grambling State University.

Through the right combination of platform, people and process, IT leaders can overcome the following obstacles to secure systems for student success.

1. Data breaches

Challenge: 87 percent of educational institutions have been breached by a cyberattack. The high rate of compromise stems from several factors.

  • Schools store vast amounts of personally identifiable information (PII), including student records, financial data, and personnel information, making them attractive targets for cybercriminals.
  • Schools often operate with limited budgets and resources, leading to outdated IT infrastructure and insufficient cybersecurity measures.
  • Faculty, staff and students lack training to spot and report cyberattacks.
  • As schools become increasingly interconnected through technology adoption, exposure to threats and vulnerabilities increases.

Solution: Holistic risk reduction demands a comprehensive approach encompassing technical controls, ongoing training and investment in resources to protect sensitive data.

2. Ransomware attacks

Challenge: 80 percent of K-12 providers were hit by a ransomware attack in 2023 — costing $1.42 million per incident to remediate on average. In addition to the financial damage, ransomware attacks cost schools three days to three weeks of lost learning time during recovery.

Solution: Schools can reduce their risk of ransomware attacks by deploying backup and disaster recovery solutions, modernizing their IT infrastructure and implementing strong security controls. Incident response plans and training are also crucial to timely recovery, minimizing impact on students.

3. Social engineering

Challenge: Around 30 percent of education-sector employees have fallen for phishing scams. In many such cases, cybercriminals impersonate school administrators, IT staff or other trusted entities to deceive “colleagues” into disclosing sensitive information or clicking on malicious links.

Solution: In addition to regular awareness training, there are technological measures to mitigate social engineering risks. Email filtering and authentication protocols can prevent phishing emails from reaching recipients’ inboxes and block malicious attachments. Domain filtering tools stop users from connecting to malicious sites.

4. Device & network management

Challenge: With the proliferation of mobile devices, laptops, tablets and IoT devices, IT teams in education must manage increasingly complex network environments, facilitating reliable connectivity and access to educational resources — without compromising security. Compounding the complexity, more schools are adopting BYOD (bring your own device) policies, adding a plethora of personal devices to the mix.

Solution: Schools must implement robust endpoint security measures to protect both school-issued and personal devices against malware, unauthorized access and data breaches. This includes deploying antivirus software, enforcing strong password policies, and implementing endpoint detection and response (EDR) solutions.

5. Lack of funding & resources

Challenge: Budget looms large in the minds of K-12 technology leaders. They must balance competing priorities for funding for an array of technology initiatives, and sometimes cybersecurity feels the squeeze. Limited investment can lead to outdated IT infrastructure, inadequate security measures, and a lack of dedicated cybersecurity personnel. Legacy systems may lack essential security features and updates, making them more susceptible to exploitation.

Solution: Modern integrated cybersecurity platforms, such as Cynet’s All-in-One Cybersecurity Platform, provide protection across multiple domains. Consolidated capabilities are far more affordable, not to mention easier to manage, than purchasing multiple standalone solutions.

6. Lack of employee awareness

Challenge: Cybersecurity awareness in K-12 schools is often in short supply. That students are not to be relied upon as exemplars of cybersecurity best practice almost goes without saying. But teachers and staff may not be familiar with the methods cyber attackers use to infiltrate networks, steal personal and institutional data, or disrupt educational processes.

Solution: Schools should integrate ongoing, age-appropriate cybersecurity education into curriculums and professional development programs. Drills and simulations should also be conducted regularly to prepare staff and students to respond to a cyber incident.

7. Remote learning

Challenge: Schools must ensure that students, faculty, and staff can securely access online learning platforms and resources from remote locations without compromising sensitive information.

Solution: Remote learning risks can be addressed via proactive, layered cybersecurity measures, including strong authentication mechanisms, encrypted data transmission, and continuous monitoring for unauthorized access or suspicious behavior.

8. Regulatory complexity

Challenge: K-12 schools are subject to a variety of data privacy standards, such as FERPA in the United States, that prescribe strict data protection measures, regular audits, and requirements for staff to understand their obligations under these laws. Non-compliance can result in substantial penalties, not to mention damage to the institution’s reputation.

Solution: Regular reviews and updates to data protection policies and protocol must adapt to changes in the law, as well as evolving cyber threats. Third-party support can provide schools with specialized expertise. Log collection and management also help to assess and support regulatory compliance.

9. Insider threats

Challenge: Students, faculty, staff, or contractors may misuse their user privileges — intentionally or by mistake — to gain unauthorized access to sensitive data and systems.

This can lead to data exfiltration, for example, where individuals steal or leak sensitive information for personal gain or malicious purposes. Even without malintent, insiders may inadvertently expose sensitive data through careless handling of information.

Solution: IT teams in education should implement access controls to limit privileged access to essential personnel, monitor user activity for signs of suspicious behavior, and enforce security policies and procedures to prevent data misuse.

10. Insufficient incident response prep

Challenge: Many schools are ill-prepared to rapidly detect and contain a cyberattack. Their lack of thorough incident response planning can result in costlier recoveries and extended disruption to academic activities.

Solution: IT teams must collaborate with school stakeholders to establish clear procedures and protocols for response if a security incident arises. Plans should define roles and responsibilities for incident response team members, establish communication channels for reporting and escalating incidents, and outlining processes for remediation.

Furthermore, by proactively conducting risk assessments and vulnerability scans, schools can identify potential weaknesses in their systems and prioritize resources for mitigation efforts.


K-12 leaders cannot afford to let organizational constraints compromise protections for students. A path forward is provided by the best practices in the guide, “Top 10 Cybersecurity Challenges Faced by K-12 Institutions.”

Cynet’s All-in-One Platform delivers powerful advantages to IT teams in education by unifying a full suite of cybersecurity capabilities on a single, simple platform that’s backed by 24/7 access to on-demand support. Sign up for a one-on-one demo with a Cynet expert to see how it could help your team enhance cybersecurity for students, teachers, parents and staff.

Michael Newell, Cynet Security.

About Cynet

Cynet has developed the world’s first end-to-end, natively automated cybersecurity platform backed by a 24/7 service, purposely built for lean security teams, ushering in a new era in cybersecurity — making protecting organizations easy and stress-less. With thousands of customers, Cynet enables organizations of all sizes to put their cybersecurity on autopilot and focus their limited resources on managing security rather than operating it.