Schools Stronger on Cyber Security than Physical Security

VERNON HILLS, Ill. -- CDW Government, Inc. (CDW-G), a wholly owned subsidiary of CDW Corporation and leading source of information technology (IT) solutions to governments and educators, today released the findings of the CDW-G School Safety Index, a research project benchmarking the current status of public school district safety. Based on 14 elements of physical and cyber safety, the survey of 381 school district IT and security directors highlights the indicators of strong district safety programs, as well as the barriers to school safety.

The CDW-G School Safety Index reveals that districts are having greater success with cyber security than physical security. Key findings from the School Safety Index include:

• School districts rely too heavily on technical solutions to protect networks and buildings and need to focus more attention on educating students about physical and cyber dangers

• Tech-savvy students are putting the district network and themselves at risk by sidestepping IT security procedures through measures like proxy servers

• Districts rely heavily on the telephone to communicate with faculty and parents during emergencies

• Lack of budget, staff resources and proper security tools limit districts' ability to protect themselves

"The School Safety Index helps educational stakeholders understand the broad spectrum of tools available to them to improve both cyber and physical security," said Bob Kirby, senior director K-12, CDW-G. "CDW-G examined a broad range of security topics, from data monitoring and building access to security software and safety education. The index shows the potential for schools to do more – especially in the areas of safety education and emerging communication technologies."

By understanding the baseline, CDW-G hopes districts will use the index to examine their particular security issues and how to address them better, Kirby noted.

Cyber Safety

Out of a possible 110 points on the CDW-G cyber safety index, the districts surveyed scored 55.3. While many districts are monitoring student Internet activity (81 percent), blocking Web sites (95 percent) and placing computer monitors in view of adults (89 percent), only 38 percent have a closed district network to provide more control over communication and content access. A new challenge for IT directors, however, is the growing sophistication of tech-savvy students, who have figured out how to build proxy sites to get around closed networks.

Nearly every district reported having an acceptable use policy (AUP), but as with any policy, its true strength lies in frequent dissemination and review with users. However, 37 percent of districts update their AUPs less than once a year. "Popular social networking sites such as Facebook have just opened up to high school users in the last year, which means that many districts have no stated policy about students using district resources, especially bandwidth, to access these sites," Kirby noted.

Additionally, the survey finds that just 8 percent of districts provide cyber safety training to students, despite the long-term effects of identity theft and the potential impact that inappropriate content can have on a student's college and career plans. Districts report that they rely more on filtering software to protect networks than on actively engaging students to be part of the safety solution.

Physical Safety

Districts scored much lower on the physical safety index, with the national average at 44 out of a possible 160 points. Sixty-three percent of districts are utilizing security cameras, with many more considering their use over the next two years, but only 24 percent of districts report having real-time access to sex offender databases. "It's as important for districts to know who is trying to gain access to their campuses as it is to watch them once they are there," Kirby said.

The survey also shows that districts have room to improve their emergency communication programs. During a campus emergency, districts report utilizing intercom systems most often (48 percent) to convey information to faculty. Phone calls are also the preferred method for reaching parents in an emergency, at 54 percent. Only 1 percent of districts are considering mass notification systems like text alerts to cell phones.

"In an emergency, every moment is critical, and education is a late adopter of mass notification systems," Kirby said. "Mass notification systems allow districts to instantaneously reach out to any one of a number of pre-selected groups to disseminate information, from first-responders to faculty to parents. They are a tool that federal, state and local governments have embraced post-September 11, and the applications for education extend well beyond emergencies to improve overall school-to-home communication."

Call to Action

As half of all districts cite budget restraints as their primary barrier to improving security, the School Safety Index can help IT and security directors make the case for additional funding by helping district leaders understand the tools and resources that may prevent or mitigate security breaches, thereby lessening the long-term impact that a breach can have on a district. CDW-G also recommends that districts turn to peers and the vendor community to understand their options regarding new security technology and best practices.

Whether it is physical or cyber security, the threats that districts face will become increasingly sophisticated. With a solid framework, the right tools and proper planning, districts have the opportunity to prevent breaches and anticipate threats.

Methodology

The CDW-G School Safety Index is based on a survey of 381 public school district IT and security directors. The survey was conducted online and by phone by Quality Education Data. The survey has a +/- 5 percent margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level.

For more information about school cyber safety, please visit www.cdwg.com/newsroom/schoolsafetyindex.

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