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Information Security vs. Cybersecurity: Which Should Districts Prioritize?

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“Education is evolving due to the impact of the Internet. We cannot teach our students in the same manner in which we were taught. Change is necessary to engage students, not in the curriculum we are responsible for teaching, but in school. Period.” ~ April Chamberlain

Every school district uses technology to keep records, create schedules, share information, and communicate. While the arrival of technology in schools and classrooms has been revolutionary in many ways, it also carries with it some risks that require schools to take care.

At Alludo, we often talk to assistant superintendents about information security vs cybersecurity and which they should prioritize. It’s a question that must be asked and answered, which is why we’ve designed the Alludo K-12 CyberSmart Training program to protect districts and their data. Here’s what you need to know about information security and cybersecurity in your district.

Table of Contents

  1. What is Cybersecurity?
  2. What is Information Security?
  3. What Are Similarities and Differences Between Cybersecurity and Information Security?
  4. Do You Need Both Cybersecurity and Information Security?
  5. Alludo's Take
  6. Protect Your District's Data with Help from Alludo Learning

What is Cybersecurity?

Cybersecurity is a term that refers to the protection of networks, systems, programs, and devices from digital intrusions that might allow the attacker to access information without authorization. Most cyber attacks are carried out with one of the following intentions:

  • Accessing, altering, or even destroying sensitive information
  • Installing ransomware to extort money from users
  • Interrupting normal business or administration processes

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Since the beginning of the internet, there have been bad actors whose goal it is to cause harm. As the number of active internet users has increased, so has the creativity of those actors. That means that cybersecurity is a challenging process as there are more devices than people and even the best cybersecurity experts can’t be everywhere at once.

The key to effective cybersecurity is having multiple layers of risk management and protection in place and making sure that a system’s users understand those layers and the role they play in protecting them. Every element within a system must do its part to protect the system:

  • Technology is often the first line of defense against cyber threats. It may include things like antivirus software, malware protection, firewalls, DNS filtering, and email protection. In addition to protecting the network, devices including individual computers and mobile devices, smart devices, and routers must also be secured.
  • People must play a role by creating strong passwords, backing up their data, and taking common-sense precautions to avoid introducing malware into the computer system. An example would be not opening email attachments from unknown sources.
  • Processes must be designed to deal with any attempted or successful attack. Everyone who operates within the system must know what to do and who to tell if they suspect or identify an intrusion. There should also be processes in place to recover from a successful attack.

Cybersecurity is a must for any internet user and particularly important for school districts, who hold confidential information about students and staff.

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What is Information Security?

Information security, sometimes referred to as InfoSec, is a practice that uses both tools and processes to protect sensitive data from being modified, destroyed or inspected, and from having access by authorized users disrupted.

Organizations should have an information security management system (ISMS) in place to help them if there is a data breach. The ISMS provides formal guidelines that can be used to minimize the risk to stored data.

Cybersecurity is part of InfoSec, something we’ll discuss in more detail below. InfoSec may fall into these six categories:

  1. Application security. Applications are software and any time new software is introduced into a system, there’s a risk that it might open the door for a cyberattack. InfoSec might involve testing applications in a contained environment or requiring permission to install new apps.
  2. Cloud security. Most organizations, including school districts, store information in the cloud. InfoSec’s job is to make sure that cloud storage is secure and that processes that run in a shared environment are isolated to minimize risk. It should also vet third-party vendors to ensure their cloud security meets district standards.
  3. Infrastructure security. Infrastructure security involves protecting the physical and digital infrastructure of a system, including internal networks and extranets, data centers, servers, desktop computers, laptops, smart devices, and mobile devices.
  4. Cryptography. Cryptography involves the encryption of data to preserve its integrity and prevent unauthorized use.
  5. Vulnerability management. Vulnerability management is the practice of testing a system for weaknesses and doing the work needed to address potential issues that might allow for a successful attack.
  6. Incident response. Incident response exactly what it sounds like. Any system should have processes in place to dictate what the response will be to a successful cyberattack.

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InfoSec in school districts should focus on the protection of students’ personal information and of school data.

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What Are Similarities and Differences Between Cybersecurity and Information Security?

Now, let’s look at some of the key similarities and differences between information security vs cybersecurity:

  • As we mentioned earlier, cybersecurity is part of InfoSec. While cybersecurity focuses on protecting data that’s stored or accessible via the internet (aka cyberspace), InfoSec is an umbrella term that refers to the protection of all data.
  • Another key difference is that while both cybersecurity and InfoSec protect a school district’s data from intrusions, InfoSec protects all data, regardless of where and how it is stored. This may include data stored in the cloud, on devices, in physical files, and even intellectual property.
  • Cybersecurity is focused mostly on whatever data has been identified as sensitive and might be accessible in a cyberattack. In a school system, that might include employees’ personal information, including Social Security Numbers and employment records, and students’ personal information, as well as critical data related to the administration of the school itself.
  • InfoSec’s job is to guarantee the accessibility, integrity, and confidentiality of any data that’s held in trust by a school or school district.
  • Cybersecurity is responsible for maintaining or repairing the security of communications within a computer network, including email, direct messaging, and in-software communications.
  • InfoSec develops measures to prevent unauthorized access to data, create protocols for access by authorized individuals and entities, and establish robust network security measures to protect information.
  • Cybersecurity, by securing devices and educating users, protects data from ransomware, spyware, and viral attacks.

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As you can see, both cybersecurity and InfoSec play important roles that sometimes overlap. It may be difficult for school districts to know which to prioritize.

Do You Need Both Cybersecurity and Information Security?

We believe that school districts need both cybersecurity and information security, but the growing use of the cloud to store data puts cybersecurity at the top of the list. Most students have at least one mobile device and many may be connected to the school network when they are on campus, or—as was the case during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic—engaged in remote learning.

There are plenty of examples of school districts who have been targeted by cyberattacks. Here are a few to consider:

  • Austin ISD learned that they had experienced a data breach only when parents of the district’s students received a letter from a former third-party vendor. Even though there was no evidence that the data had been used maliciously, the breach still presented a challenge for the school district, which offered free identity monitoring to those who were affected.
  • Leon County School District in Florida lost the personal data of approximately 50,000 students and the district’s staff members due to a breach of data stored by a third-party provider. It was later revealed that the data had been stored on an insecure server that was vulnerable to cyberattacks.
  • Broward County Schools experienced a ransomware attack that shut down their school’s systems and came with a demand for a $40 million ransom. When the district couldn’t pay the ransom, the attackers made good on their demands and published personal data that included financial records and personal information.

What these three examples illustrate is that there is a real and growing cyber risk to school districts that fail to prioritize cybersecurity. All three of these attacks happened because data was not stored safely and adequate measures were not in place to protect it. While InfoSec is undeniably important, the biggest risk to schools at present is the risk to data that’s accessible via a cyberattack.

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Alludo’s Take

Here at Alludo Learning, we create dynamic, online learning environments for educators, administrators, and staff. We understand the importance of data privacy and security, which is why we have included many activities and courses related to security in the Alludo content catalog.

Our content can help teachers mitigate potential cybersecurity threats and fill in the gaps where the district’s IT team might not have resources to do what’s needed.

We offer a K-12 Cybersecurity Training Awareness program to make it easy for districts to meet security compliance standards and protect student, staff, and district data. The program provides a comprehensive platform for curating, publishing, managing, and measuring cybersecurity training efforts.

The districts that partner with Alludo experience the highest levels of learner engagement because we have incorporated robust analytics and collaboration features, so you can be sure that your district personnel will have the knowledge they need to be part of your cybersecurity solution.

Protect Your School District’s Data with Help from Alludo Learning

Every school district has a responsibility to protect the personal information of its students and staff. Since users play a key role in cybersecurity, it makes sense to require educators, administrators, and staff to complete professional development that teaches them about their responsibilities as they relate to data security and privacy.

Are you ready to protect your school district from cyberattacks? Alludo can help! Click here to start your free trial of Madagascar, our learning platform, with our Privacy and Security Mission with 17 tracks preloaded for your convenience.

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