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Increasing School IT Security Breaches Causing Headaches

Elementary and high school districts are always under pressure from parents, school board members, teachers unions, truant trackers--you name it. My hat's off to district superintendents; this is no job for the faint of heart.

Anyway, there's another headache for these long-suffering folks to ponder: increasing attacks on school IT systems from cyberhackers. And, it turns out, a majority of these misdeeds are being perpetrated by insiders.

In the past year, more than half [55 percent] of all U.S. school districts reported a security breach, up substantially from 2008. This is according to a new survey of 400 K-12th-grade IT managers conducted by IT integrator CDW Government that was released May 18.

Here are some of the details of the 2009 School Safety Index:

--CDW-G found that while K-12 districts are indeed taking steps to improve network and building security, increased breaches caused an overall decline in schools' physical- and cyber-security scores.

--Both IT and physical breaches are on the rise. In the last 12 months, 55 percent of districts report experiencing an IT breach, such as unauthorized user access, hacking or viruses; 67 percent experienced a physical breach such as break-ins, unauthorized persons in school buildings or vandalism.

--Despite increased numbers of security breaches, about 75 percent of respondents rated their cyber and physical security as adequate.

--Most IT breaches originate internally--41 percent from students and 22 percent from staff or employees. Physical security breaches are most often caused by unidentified persons (42 percent) and students (37 percent).

--Districts' top IT and physical security barriers--lack of budget, too few staff resources and the need for more security tools--remain unchanged for the third year.

Sixty-seven percent of the surveyees said a lack of funding was the primary reason they could not improve cyber-security. Fifty-six percent said not enough staff resources was the main problem.

It's well known that President Obama, trying to keep his finger in the budget dike, has proposed budget cuts in federal technology grants for K-12 education. If these cuts are approved by Congress in the next few months, this will make it even more difficult for schools to protect their networks from cyber-attacks and students from online predators.

Mention this to your Congressional representative next time you see him or her.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 15 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...