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How Safe Is Your Child’s High School Computer Network?

written by: •edited by: Aaron R.•updated: 7/11/2010

Do a search on high school information security breaches and you’ll find many. While some of these hacks are from outside sources seeking confidential information, the majority of these breaches come from the students that attend these high schools.

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    Latest News on High School Hacks

    Computer and Screen Wikimedia Commons Data Breaches.net reported that in June of 2010 over 2.4 million social security numbers were stolen by outside hackers who then posted not only student information but also parent/teacher information from the Brooklyn Tech High School in New York State. Along with social security numbers, these hackers obtained home addresses and even citizenship statuses and, much to the dismay of the high school, posted the information on the school’s website.

    Cyber spies have even hit elementary schools, such as the break in at Dorothy Hains Elementary School where hackers gained access to social security numbers of students and teachers.

    For the most part, however, high school information security breaches come from within, meaning student hackers. In February of 2010, the Broward County School District in Florida, as reported by the Sun Sentinel, said that it suffered “several security breaches” that involved multiple school’s computer systems. The source? Students who were charging up to $100 to change the grades of fellow students.

    At South Tahoe High School in Reno, Nevada, TV Station KTVN reported that one student had been arrested for hacking into the school’s network, “accessing sensitive information.” Again, the responsible party was looking not just for money but sexual favors and even drugs in exchange for access to confidential student data.

    With high school information security breaches on the rise from both internal and external hackers, what can schools do to protect themselves?

    Image Credit: Computer and Screen / Wikimedia Commons

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    Protecting Student Information

    Screenshot Snort.org Some states do have set laws for anyone who hacks into a school’s computer, whether it’s internal or external. To find out if your state has such a law, contact your state’s District Attorney’s office.

    Even if your state will prosecute, if it’s even possible to catch the hacker, there are other things schools can do to ensure student, teacher and even parent information is kept safe and secure. Technology & Learning offers some of the following tips to keep networks more secure:

    • Create User Policies – It’s imperative that all users of computers are aware of the dangers of hacks and know how to prevent them. This can be done by creating a network policy for everyone who accesses various networks, including not divulging passwords or user IDs or displaying them in conspicuous areas.
    • Network Administrators – The tasks of network administrators are vast, especially in schools. Care should be taken to install the appropriate firewalls and other security systems to ensure the chance of data being hacked is low. Network administrators should also investigate the selection of the most appropriate servers and antivirus software.
    • Secure PCs – Both teachers and students should be restricted from installing any non-approved programs on individual PCs and be educated on phishing scams and how antivirus programs work.
    • Who Is Watching Whom? – Any high school that is careless about network security and offers no accountability should invest in SNORT. This freeware program alerts school administrators of data breaches and unusual or suspicious attacks.
    • Withhold Usage – Too many schools offer computer access to student teachers, board members, children of teachers who stay late, maintenance personnel and other non-responsible parties. All computers within schools should have definite policies on who is allowed to access them and who is not. This includes keeping computers away from public areas.
    • Remote Access – These days many students are able to access homework and other assignments from home because teachers access the network remotely to post assignments. VPNs or virtual private networks should be a standard for schools doing this. These password-protected networks are essential for hacker protection both internally and externally.

    Technology & Learning offers many other suggestions along with the ones listed here. If you’re worried about high school information security breaches, contact your PTA, school board or principal and inquire about the school’s policy on network security. If you don’t think they’re doing enough—get involved.

    Image Credit: Logo Snort.org (http://www.snort.org)

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    References

    1. Data Breaches (7/9/10) http://www.privacyrights.org/data-breach
    2. Info Security Analysis (7/9/10) http://www.infosecurityanalysis.com/2008.html
    3. Tech & Learning (7/9/10) http://www.techlearning.com/article/13824
    4. Sun Sentinel (7/9/10) http://www.sun-sentinel.com
    5. Channel 2 KTVN (7/9/10) http://www.ktvn.com