Report: School Security Improvements Not Keeping Pace With Breaches

CDW Government Inc. (CDW-G), a wholly owned subsidiary of CDW Corp., recently announced the results of the 2009 School Safety Index. Based on a national survey of more than 400 K-12 district IT and security directors, the index measures 10 indicators and four contraindicators to set a national benchmark to gauge the current state of school security.

The 2009 School Safety Index finds that while K-12 districts are taking steps to improve network and building security, increased breaches caused an overall decline in schools' physical and cyber security scores. Key findings include:

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, three-quarters 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.

"With the 2009 School Safety Index, CDW-G took a deeper look at school security to understand not just what tools schools are using, but how they are implementing those tools and how they perceive the state of school security today," said Bob Kirby, vice president K-12 education, CDW-G. "Districts reported gains in important areas such as securing buildings and networks, but many are missing the opportunity to counter increased breaches by sharing best practices with other districts and engaging district administrators regularly on security priorities and investments."

Measured on a scale of zero to 100, the 2009 national cyber security average is 22.2. The School Safety Index found that 88 percent of districts are utilizing wireless networks to give students increased access to the Internet and other learning resources, and 92 percent of districts are using some type of encryption to protect data. This is good news, as 65 percent of schools that do not currently have a wireless network are considering or implementing one within the next year.

While nearly all districts have acceptable use policies (AUP) governing how school networks are used, only 40 percent of districts said they actively enforce the policies, and 40 percent said they spend just four hours or less per month reviewing questionable Internet activity - revealing a gap in monitoring that could expose networks to security risks.

Measured on a scale of zero to 100, the 2009 national physical security average is 32.2. The 2009 School Safety Index found a slight increase in security camera use, with 79 percent of districts reporting that they use cameras versus 70 percent in 2008. Yet half of districts use cameras to monitor outside areas only -- missing a key opportunity to deter incidents inside school buildings.

The School Safety Index also found that districts are actively taking steps to disseminate emergency information. Thirty-six percent of districts enable local emergency response personnel to view camera footage in real time, and 24 percent report that they are planning or implementing this capability in the next 12 months. In addition, 70 percent of districts report that they are using a mass notification system to strengthen real-time safety communications, an increase from just 45 percent in 2008; 46 percent of districts that do not currently have one are considering a mass notification system in the next year.

Given the evolving nature of school safety, it is important that districts establish a formal process to continually assess their security policies and procedures. The online School Safety Index Self-Assessment Tool, updated in conjunction with the School Safety Index report, allows K-12 districts to measure their cyber and physical security against the national benchmark.

"School safety is top of mind for administrators, teachers and parents - as well as students," Kirby said. "Schools are actively taking steps to better protect their campuses, but must be ever-vigilant in the face of increasing threats. That's why it's important for schools to know exactly where they stand with security. The 2009 School Safety Index Self-Assessment Tool helps districts evaluate their plans and policies and leverage the findings to make meaningful changes."

In addition to self-assessment, CDW-G recommends that districts cover the security basics by ensuring that every computer accessing the network has the latest security updates, increasing the number of cameras in interior common areas and bolstering security education for both students and staff.

Finally, there is an opportunity for districts to support each other with real-world advice and security best practices. Using collective knowledge can help districts prioritize investments and maximize limited budgets.

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