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Welcome to the official blog of the ISA Global Cybersecurity Alliance (ISAGCA).

This blog covers topics on automation cybersecurity such as risk assessment, compliance, educational resources, and how to leverage the ISA/IEC 62443 series of standards.

The material and information contained on this website is for general information purposes only. ISAGCA blog posts may be authored by ISA staff and guest authors from the cybersecurity community. Views and opinions expressed by a guest author are solely their own, and do not necessarily represent those of ISA. Posts made by guest authors have been subject to peer review.

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How to Implement Cybersecurity Automation in Education

Every industry today needs to take cybersecurity seriously. That said, some sectors face more dangers than most. The education system is one of those industries with abnormally high risk, making it all the more crucial to implement advanced security measures like automation. 

Why Schools Need Cybersecurity Automation 

Schools are a prime target for cybercriminals. They store vast amounts of sensitive data, have broad attack surfaces and tend to have lower IT budgets, leading to limited protections. Consequently, a staggering 80% of lower education institutions and 79% of higher education providers suffered a ransomware attack in 2023. 

More worryingly, those figures are roughly double what they were in 2021. That uptick suggests cybercriminals are targeting school systems with increasing frequency, so it’s imperative that the industry’s cybersecurity improves. Automation is an essential step toward that goal. 

Rising attack rates warrant constant vigilance, which is nearly impossible without automated monitoring technologies. Automating detection and response would also reduce IT workloads in a staff-constrained sector, enabling more effective protections despite current challenges. When breaches do occur, automation and AI save $1.76 million on average. 

Implementing Cybersecurity Automation in Schools 

The need for cybersecurity automation in schools is clear. However, implementing this technology can be more complicated than it initially seems. School systems should follow a few best practices to adopt and use security automation effectively. 

1. Focus on Cost-Effective Solutions

Costs are some of the most important considerations for applying this technology in the education sector. School technology budgets often leave much to be desired, with just 45% of schools having enough computers for every student. Focusing on the most cost-effective automation use cases first will help. 

Automated patch management may be a good place to start, as it’s relatively low cost and frees a considerable amount of time. School systems could also apply real-time network monitoring to a single server with the most sensitive data first. Over time, these use cases will produce savings to justify expanding automation to more areas. 

2. Protect Legacy Systems

As schools look for impactful areas to automate their cybersecurity workflows, they should emphasize their legacy hardware. More than a third of schools today say outdated computers pose a moderate or large challenge for teaching. This old hardware is even more threatening from a security perspective, so it deserves attention. 

Automatically downloading and installing software updates is the first step. IT admins could also set up automated alerts if a program or OS will no longer receive updates, indicating it’s time to upgrade. These steps minimize human error and make it easier to manage these high-risk systems. While newer tech still requires attention, addressing legacy systems first will produce the biggest improvements. 

3. Monitor Sensitive Data

Another high-risk area for schools to address is their sensitive student information. Anonymization techniques can make breaches less impactful and are important, but they’re not enough on their own. Schools must also use automated tools to keep a close eye on this data to detect potential breaches earlier. 

To manage costs and reduce complexity, schools can start by consolidating high-risk information into a single database. That way, they must only secure and monitor one system instead of spreading resources between multiple. Restricting access permissions to this data according to the principle of least privilege will also make it easier for automated systems to detect abnormalities. 

4. Expand and Evolve

While many schools must start small on account of their smaller budgets and lack of experience, they shouldn’t stay there. Cybersecurity automation initiatives should be ongoing investments. As returns start showing for one use case, schools should expand them to new areas to cover as much as possible. 

Importantly, expansion is only part of the puzzle. In addition to automating more security processes, schools should update their automated services to adapt to changing cybercrime trends. Criminals exploited 97 zero-days in 2023 alone, so frequent review to ensure solutions meet current standards is crucial. 

Education Needs Better Security 

The education sector must embrace better cybersecurity standards. It’s too vulnerable to breaches and the impact of those attacks is too severe to overlook the advantages of new technologies. Automation isn’t the only necessary step to address this gap, but it’s an important one. 

Implementing security automation in education can be challenging, but it’s not impossible. School systems can and should do it effectively if they follow these steps. 

Zac Amos
Zac Amos
Zac Amos is the Features Editor at ReHack, where he covers trending tech news in cybersecurity and artificial intelligence. For more of his work, follow him on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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