Image result for k-12 back to schoolA new school year is upon us and some students are already back at school. Upon their return, many students may experience new technologies and equipment rolled out by their schools districts, such as online education resources, district-provided equipment, etc. to enhance the education they provide and improve district administration. However, a recent report, “The State of K-12 Cybersecurity: 2018 Year in Review,” compiles sobering information about cybersecurity at K-12 schools. The report discusses 122 publicly-disclosed cybersecurity incidents affecting 119 public K-12 education agencies across 38 states in 2018. The trend seems to be continuing in 2019. Like other organizations, school districts should be allocating appropriate resources to ensure that the technologies and equipment they are leveraging and the third party vendors they are engaging to help students learn do not leave those same students (or their parents) vulnerable to a data breach.

Implementing technologies and other products and services for students in the course of their K-12 education often requires the collection of massive amounts of personal information about students and students’ parents. Children are enrolling in classes, sports activities, clubs, etc., providing immunization and health records, using school district equipment that could be tracking location and other metrics, paying for lunch and other goods and services with debit and credit cards, etc. It should be no surprise that K-12 school districts are targets and that security incidents are on the rise.

Why student data? In recent years, the marketing and sale of children’s personal information is growing. Criminals realize that students are not focused on their credit reports, nor are their parents. Left unchecked, personal data of children can be used to build new identities and engage in widespread fraud that could later come back to hurt unsuspecting students, and potentially their parents.

Reports of K-12 security incidents in 2019 suggest a continuing trend. Here are some examples:

  • The School of the Osage School District in Missouri reported a data security incident by an outside vendor used to provide support and educational services to individual students. The same incident is believed to have affected other school districts including the Rome City School District, the Carmel Clay Schools, and others.
  • San Dieguito Union High School District experienced a malware attack.
  • Student busing information concerning Cincinnati Public School children, including student names and pickup and drop-off locations, was inadvertently disclosed to unauthorized recipients, according to reporting by DataBreaches.net.
  • Camp Verde Unified School District in Arizona experienced a ransomware attack.
  • While reporting on a malware attack at the Watertown City School District in New York, Spectrum News also noted attacks at the Syracuse City School and the Onondaga County Public Library.
  • For more information about other reported breaches in the education sector, Databreaches.net provides an informative resource here.

These risks are not new. Fortunately, there are steps that school districts can take to address them. Here are some examples:

  • Educate their district community. Districts can develop materials to help inform parents and students about the importance of safeguarding personal information and best practices for doing so. This should include informing student and parents on how to quickly inform the district about potential incidents.
  • Appoint a data protection officer. Districts can appoint a data protection officer to be responsible for implementing all required security and privacy policies and procedures.
  • Develop data security and privacy policies.  Districts can establish written policies and procedures for protecting personal information. These policies and procedures should be informed by a thorough risk assessment. A recognized framework for school security policies is the National Institute for Standards and Technology Cybersecurity Framework (“NIST CSF”).
  • Consider privacy and security at the outset of any new technology initiative. Protecting student data should not be an afterthought. At the start of a new initiative, districts can evaluate what information is necessary for the initiative to be successful and design the initiative to include only that information, and to maintain it only for as long as it is needed.
  • Establish a vendor management program. Districts work with many third parties to support and extend technology-based services to students. They can take steps during the process to procure service providers to ensure appropriate measures will be applied by the service provider to safeguard personal information. They can ask questions, review policies, examine their systems, etc. Districts can also obligate providers by contract to secure information, and make sure the information is destroyed or deleted at the conclusion of the services.
  • Provide training for administrators, teachers, staff, and others. Information privacy and security awareness training, online or in person, is critical to creating awareness about security threats and following best practices.
  • Develop an incident response plan. Districts can make sure they have a response plan and are prepared to quickly respond to an actual or suspected security incident. This includes practicing that plan so the response team is ready.

Like many organizations, K-12 school districts have quite a challenge – they need to increasingly leverage technology to deliver their services, which requires access to and processing of personal information, but may not have sufficient resources to address all of the risks. Getting started is half the battle and there often is “low-hanging fruit” that districts can adopt with relatively little cost.

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Photo of Joseph J. Lazzarotti Joseph J. Lazzarotti

Joseph J. Lazzarotti is a Principal in the Morristown, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He founded and currently leads the firm’s Privacy, e-Communication and Data Security Practice, edits the firm’s Privacy Blog, and is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP) with…

Joseph J. Lazzarotti is a Principal in the Morristown, New Jersey, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He founded and currently leads the firm’s Privacy, e-Communication and Data Security Practice, edits the firm’s Privacy Blog, and is a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP) with the International Association of Privacy Professionals. Trained as an employee benefits lawyer, focused on compliance, Mr. Lazzarotti also is a member of the firm’s Employee Benefits Practice Group.

In short, his practice focuses on the matrix of laws governing the privacy, security, and management of data, as well as the impact and regulation of social media. He also counsels companies on compliance, fiduciary, taxation, and administrative matters with respect to employee benefit plans.

Privacy and cybersecurity experience – Mr. Lazzarotti counsels multinational, national and regional companies in all industries on the broad array of laws, regulations, best practices, and preventive safeguards. The following are examples of areas of focus in his practice:

  • Advising health care providers, business associates, and group health plan sponsors concerning HIPAA/HITECH compliance, including risk assessments, policies and procedures, incident response plan development, vendor assessment and management programs, and training.
  • Coached hundreds of companies through the investigation, remediation, notification, and overall response to data breaches of all kinds – PHI, PII, payment card, etc.
  • Helping organizations address questions about the application, implementation, and overall compliance with European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and, in particular, its implications in the U.S., together with preparing for the California Consumer Privacy Act.
  • Working with organizations to develop and implement video, audio, and data-driven monitoring and surveillance programs. For instance, in the transportation and related industries, Joe has worked with numerous clients on fleet management programs involving the use of telematics, dash-cams, event data recorders (EDR), and related technologies. He also has advised many clients in the use of biometrics including with regard to consent, data security, and retention issues under BIPA and other laws.
  • Assisting clients with growing state data security mandates to safeguard personal information, including steering clients through detailed risk assessments and converting those assessments into practical “best practice” risk management solutions, including written information security programs (WISPs). Related work includes compliance advice concerning FTC Act, Regulation S-P, GLBA, and New York Reg. 500.
  • Advising clients about best practices for electronic communications, including in social media, as well as when communicating under a “bring your own device” (BYOD) or “company owned personally enabled device” (COPE) environment.
  • Conducting various levels of privacy and data security training for executives and employees
  • Supports organizations through mergers, acquisitions, and reorganizations with regard to the handling of employee and customer data, and the safeguarding of that data during the transaction.
  • Representing organizations in matters involving inquiries into privacy and data security compliance before federal and state agencies including the HHS Office of Civil Rights, Federal Trade Commission, and various state Attorneys General.

Benefits counseling experience – Mr. Lazzarotti’s work in the benefits counseling area covers many areas of employee benefits law. Below are some examples of that work:

  • As part of the Firm’s Health Care Reform Team, he advises employers and plan sponsors regarding the establishment, administration and operation of fully insured and self-funded health and welfare plans to comply with ERISA, IRC, ACA/PPACA, HIPAA, COBRA, ADA, GINA, and other related laws.
  • Guiding clients through the selection of plan service providers, along with negotiating service agreements with vendors to address plan compliance and operations, while leveraging data security experience to ensure plan data is safeguarded.
  • Counsels plan sponsors on day-to-day compliance and administrative issues affecting plans.
  • Assists in the design and drafting of benefit plan documents, including severance and fringe benefit plans.
  • Advises plan sponsors concerning employee benefit plan operation, administration and correcting errors in operation.

Mr. Lazzarotti speaks and writes regularly on current employee benefits and data privacy and cybersecurity topics and his work has been published in leading business and legal journals and media outlets, such as The Washington Post, Inside Counsel, Bloomberg, The National Law Journal, Financial Times, Business Insurance, HR Magazine and NPR, as well as the ABA Journal, The American Lawyer, Law360, Bender’s Labor and Employment Bulletin, the Australian Privacy Law Bulletin and the Privacy, and Data Security Law Journal.

Mr. Lazzarotti served as a judicial law clerk for the Honorable Laura Denvir Stith on the Missouri Court of Appeals.