Cyber Security In Schools Is A Growing Concern

Jul 25, 2019

Credit PCSD

Cyber security in schools like Park City that are technology rich, can cause operational chaos at best and infringement on the privacy of minors, at the worst. National reports have recently outlined repeated technical vandalism causing multi day school shutdowns, holding systems hostage and even bullying. The culprits are reportedly criminals, juveniles and foreign governments.

Park City School District Director of Technology, Andrew Frink says the issues of computer security and data privacy have been something they’ve been thinking about for the 16 years he’s been with the school district.

“It has definitely become a more prominent issue as we’ve rolled out more technology and as more of our teaching tools and data tools are electronic and technical rather than on pieces of paper, it becomes something we think about. But schools have always dealt with issues around student privacy and the protection of their students.”

Frink says the Utah Education and Telehealth Network provides networking services for all the state’s school districts.

“And as part of that there’s an organization called UtahSAINT which is a computer security organization founded here by UEN folks. And some of the staff at the district, including myself are members of that. So, we’re all sort of collaborating together when as things come up, it’s a really good way to find out what’s going on, what other districts and Universities are doing to mitigate those risks. Utah’s in a good place.”

A lot of the technical network structure and firewalls used in a school district are like any business.

“The biggest difference that we have, we have, of course students who are minors. So, we deal with a very different regulatory environment with those federal and state laws that dictate quite a bit of how we are supposed to be handling that information. We have an extra burden to really protect the privacy of our students.”

Frink says the Utah Student Data Privacy Act outlines responsibilities administration has in handling student information.

“We do use a number of outside vendors for various parts of what we do. You know, we use a tool like Canvas which is our learning management system, which has to have access to student data. Part of what the state has done is help us clarify what we need to in contract language from vendors, that we and the vendor are doing everything we need to do to protect our students.”

Frink says the more devices used; the more complex it is to secure outside access to data and systems.

“Some of our students are excited to play very deep into the computer. So, we have to be careful about what they can access themselves. So, we’ve been doing the one to one for awhile now. And certainly, in the early days we learned a lot about what we need to do around filtering and making sure the computers were properly secured. So, there’s always a balance that our students and teachers can do the things they need to do.”

Frink says the information technology world is rapidly changing and the best thing to keep kids safe is for parents and guardians to be present on children’s devices.

“You know, children of school age, they collect devices at night, you know every night and put them in their parents room just to be aware of what’s going on and if you have any concerns, ask them for the phone. Take a look through what they’re doing.”

Frink says technology offers wonderful opportunities for students. Parents can help guide their kids by being aware and involved with they’re doing on their devices.