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Why cyber security must remain a priority as students return to the classroom


As students finally make their long-awaited return to the classroom, it is important that schools, colleges, and other institutes of education do not lose sight of the increasingly complex cyber security landscape they must navigate, and ensure the lessons learned throughout lockdown continue to be acted upon.

Like all sectors, lockdown required schools and colleges to completely rethink their approach to cyber security, as cyber criminals rushed to take advantage of the new vulnerabilities created by home learning. Unfortunately, in spite of the advances we have made in terms of students' online safety, this trend shows no sign of slowing down. Indeed, laptops that were recently provided to vulnerable students for online learning were found to already be infected with malware - a stark reminder of cyber criminals' persistence.

The sector has not been idle in combatting this thread, with 98% of schools having antivirus software in place and 99% having implemented a firewall system, as well as the DfE having published a guide to best practice around secure remote learning. But as students and staff begin to establish what learning environments will look like the post-lockdown world, institutes of education and their technology partners must ensure that cyber security infrastructure is ready to meet the resulting security challenges - both now and in the long term.

Why hybrid learning is the future

While many teachers and students (not to mention parents!) have looked forward to classrooms opening up again, there's no doubt that remote learning has demonstrated its value in terms of opening up new channels of learning and providing an extra degree of flexibility in terms of how teachers connect with their students. As a result, the question has shifted from whether remote learning is viable, to how it can be intelligently utilised to achieve the best possible educational outcomes.

Just as we have seen other sectors embrace hybrid working - the use of both office-based and remote working on a flexible basis - we are seeing a similar approach emerging across schools and colleges, with students learning in both the classroom and from home, as required. 

Developing an effective data security model for safe hybrid learning

So, with the hybrid learning model rapidly establishing itself, cyber security best practice and the underlying technology must continue to evolve, ensuring that the short-term measures that got schools and colleges through lockdown give way to sustainable, scalable long-term solutions that will ensure that students' online safety does not become an ongoing operational and financial burden. This will require ongoing communication and close collaboration between schools and their IT partners, but we would anticipate the following to be major parts of the conversation:

A proactive approach to cyber security awareness

Regardless of how sophisticated security infrastructure becomes, human error remains one of the leading causes of breaches. For this reason, staff and students alike should be provided with ongoing security training, based on current best practice and the latest threat intelligence.

Increasing automation of security monitoring

One of the most critical services IT partners can provide schools and colleges is 24 / 7 monitoring of infrastructure, ensuring patches are automatically applied, potential threats are detected and resolved immediately, and measures are put in place against the latest threats at the earliest opportunity.

A multi-layered approach to security

There are more tools available to secure IT infrastructure than ever before - all of which can be intelligently integrated to create a leading-edge security ecosystem with the support of a trusted partner. This might include Identity Access Management, Cloud security, and Endpoint Protection, supported by ongoing testing and consultancy.

There is no single answer to the question of cyber security, but just as the Education sector weathered the challenges of delivering effective learning throughout lockdown, with the right tools and support, it will be able to establish a new model of security that places students' safety at the centre of everything. If you would like to find out more about how Exponential-e can help your institution develop a more robust cyber security posture, do not hesitate to contact us.

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