E-Rate Can Give K-12 Security a Much-Needed Boost

E-Rate Can Give K-12 Security a Much-Needed Boost

K-12 schools are collecting and storing more and more information about students, including personally identifiable information, behavioral assessments and health data, as well as grades, test scores and attendance. This data is a critical resource for evaluating students and developing personalized learning programs.

However, much of the data being stored is highly sensitive and could become the target of both hackers and predators. This is why schools are obligated to protect data privacy under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA) and Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), among other rules.

Unfortunately, schools are failing miserably when it comes to cybersecurity. In fact, a recent SecurityScorecard analysis across 17 industries in the U.S. ranked education dead last. The study found that Internet-based data collection, learning and management platforms have become popular targets for hackers. Schools are struggling, however, to keep up with patching and securing their applications, endpoints and networks.

Not surprisingly, schools were involved in a high number of cyberattacks in 2018, according to a separate study from the K-12 Cybersecurity Resource Center. The study revealed that more than 60 percent of data breaches exposed student data, and stolen data is showing up on dark web marketplaces.

One of the biggest obstacles to better cybersecurity is the budget. Today’s threat landscape gets more challenging by the day, and many schools lack the funds to invest in the tools and resources required to protect sensitive data. One way to overcome budget shortcomings is to take advantage of the E-rate program.

The E-rate program was created as part of the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 to make technology and services more accessible to public and private K-12 schools and public libraries. Eligible schools can receive discounts on telecommunications, security tools, certain types of network infrastructure, telecommunications and other qualifying solutions. Depending on economic need and location, discounts range from 20 percent to 90 percent. About $2.25 billion is available to be disbursed to E-rate applicants each year.

In the area of cybersecurity, firewalls, virtual private networks and wireless access points are typically eligible for E-rate discounts if these solutions are going to be used to protect the network from unauthorized sensitive systems and data. Other security technologies such as anti-spam, intrusion prevention and anti-virus are typically ineligible. However, solutions that have both eligible and ineligible functions might qualify for a partial E-rate discount.

WatchGuard offers a number of solutions that are eligible for E-rate and capable of meeting the strict requirements of K-12 networks. WatchGuard unified threat management (UTM) appliances allow you to centralize a wide range of security services, such as URL filtering, application control, file sandboxing, data loss prevention and ransomware protection. WatchGuard enables you to build a Trusted Wireless Environment that delivers comprehensive security and scalable cloud management without compromising performance. Additionally, integration with Google for Education brings popular Google features to schools while maintaining a high level of security and providing greater control, usability and ease of use.

A tight budget is challenging, but it’s not an excuse for a data breach that exposes sensitive student data. Let us help your school district take advantage of WatchGuard cybersecurity solutions that qualify for E-rate discounts.

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