Home CTO/CIO The K12 SIX Essentials Series for School Cybersecurity

The K12 SIX Essentials Series for School Cybersecurity

by Miguel Guhlin
Get tools, guidance, and resources for meeting cybersecurity risk management standards from K12 SIX's Essentials Series.

Since the start of 2024, there have been 5,300 school districts that suffered a data breach. These schools are all in the United States. In 2021, 56% of schools reported data breaches. In 2022, 80% of schools reported ransomware attacks (source). Almost half resulted in ransom payments (source). Massive data leaks expose sensitive information. This information ends up on the dark web in the hands of nefarious individuals. It is a big money business. Let’s explore a free resource by K12 SIX that’s available to K-12 schools in the United States.

Assessing the Extent of the Problem

Lack of reporting requirements makes it difficult to determine the extent of data breaches. That aside, data leaks affect thousands of teachers, staff, parents, and guardians. In 2023, monetary losses to school districts from cyberattacks ranged from $50K to $1M. This monetary loss is per incident. In 2021, 771 institutions were affected, which is about 2.6 million records (source).

With so much going wrong, what actions can you take? Try this one on for size.

K12 SIX operates as an information sharing and analysis center (ISAC) exclusively for the K-12 education sector. The K12 Security Information eXchange (K12 SIX) is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the U.S. K-12 community—including school districts, charter schools, private schools, and regional and state education agencies—from emerging cybersecurity threats.

Learn More About K12 SIX

Explore the K12 SIX Essential Series

The K12 SIX Essentials series offers tools and advice for U.S. schools. The goal is to help schools meet basic cybersecurity standards. The resource, devised by K-12 IT experts, includes:

  • Guides on cybersecurity frameworks for K-12 leaders
  • Essential protections and how to implement them for the 2023-2024 school year
  • A self-assessment tool for districts
  • A Cyber Incident Response Guide
  • Info on cybersecurity grants

These resources aim to help leaders manage cybersecurity efforts. With rising cybersecurity threats, protecting schools is vital. The K12 SIX Essentials help districts protect everyone and their data. Combine them with CISA and Google advice.

How to Get the Series

Getting the series of documents (PDF) is easy. Go to their website and fill out the online form. Once you do so, you will be able to access the page with all the PDFs. The intent of these documents is to make a resource more accessible than others available. Others include the MITRE Framework.

The Incident Response Runbook

Several insightful documents are available in the K12 SIX series, but let’s take a closer look at one near and dear to my heart: the Cyber Incident Response Runbook v1.1. It is the resource any CTO will reach for after a data breach or ransomware attack.

Aligned to the NIST Computer Security Incident Response Lifecycle, developed with the input of K-12 IT practitioners, the K12 SIX Essential Cyber Incident Response Runbook is tailored specifically to the needs and context of K-12 organizations. It offers guidance for coordination with internal and external partners, stakeholder communications, and managing student-initiated incidents.

Cybersecurity Guides for Schools

Here are some of the suggested actions in the runbook summarized:

  • Cyber Crisis: What Counts? Identify cyber incidents like technology misuse, phishing, and ransomware attacks.
  • Heroes of the Cyber Front: Roles Defined. Detail roles within the Incident Response Team, including leadership and communications duties.
  • Who You Gonna Call? Cyber Allies! Keep a list of essential contacts, encompassing IT, legal, executive leadership, and law enforcement.
  • Blueprints for Battle: Plan Review. Examine existing emergency, business continuity, and disaster recovery plans.
  • Ready, Set, Communicate: Prep Talk. Prepare communications with draft notifications, update protocols, and alternative communication methods if systems go down.
  • First Clues: Logging the Cyber Trail. Record actions, inform leadership, and secure evidence upon detecting an incident, maintaining the integrity of the investigation.
  • Containment Crew: Sealing the Breach. Isolate compromised systems, disable breached accounts, and apply security controls to limit damage.
  • Virus Vanquishers: Cleaning House. Patch vulnerabilities, remove malware, reset passwords, and potentially rebuild affected systems.
  • Phoenix Protocol: Rising from the Ashes. Restore systems from clean backups, implement new security measures to prevent recurrence, and monitor for signs of re-compromise.
  • Reflections and Lessons from the Cyber Storm. Conduct a post-incident review to identify deficiencies, determine root causes, document lessons learned, and update executive leadership on cybersecurity program improvements.

Each of these areas is elaborated on in more detail within K12 SIX’s Cyber Incident Response Runbook v1.1. Other documents complement this guide in the K12 SIX Essentials series. Definitely check out this approachable series of guides on a topic that is no joke!

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