As cybersecurity attacks continue to become more advanced and frequent, organizations must take steps to secure their data. Independent schools are no exception to this – in fact, given the sensitive nature of the data that many schools possess, mitigating cybersecurity risks is even more essential for these organizations.
From the personal data of students, including names, dates of birth, and addresses, to sensitive data on students’ medical conditions, independent schools sit on top of a mountain of confidential data. Were this data to be breached, the consequences could be disastrous. In the worst instances, breaches can even lead to cases of child identity theft that may not be discovered for years.
The time to act isn’t once your school has suffered a breach – it’s now.
A proactive approach to identifying your school’s blindspots coupled with the development of a risk mitigation plan helps defend your school against cyber criminals.
For many schools, this is an unfamiliar area. Fortunately, that no longer needs to be the case. Read on as we explore the key components of cybersecurity strategy for independent schools and outline the process required to build a more mature cybersecurity infrastructure.
Many independent schools find themselves lacking both the awareness and the resources to prioritize investment in their security infrastructure. It can be easy for leaders to think that cybersecurity is an issue that affects businesses – not nonprofit educational institutions. As a result, many organizations ignore cybersecurity until a breach occurs.
By this point, it’s often too late: the damage to your school has already been done. Remediating security issues after a breach is often a time-consuming, expensive process. Additionally, your school faces wide-ranging consequences: reputational, financial, operational, and even legal jeopardy are all within the realm of possibility.
Adopting a proactive approach to defending your independent school is a far more cost-effective approach, enabling your school to upgrade its security infrastructure and defend itself against would-be attackers.
An ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure. Leaders tasked with security must ensure their team has sufficient resources to invest in building robust security frameworks that protect your school – and its students – from potential security incidents.
If your school currently works with a Managed Service Provider (MSP) to manage computer provisions, an IT help desk, and other basic IT services, it’s important to understand the scope of this relationship. Many MSPs are not responsible for cybersecurity, instead focusing solely on operations. Review your organization’s Service Level Agreement (SLA) to confirm whether security risks are effectively being transferred to your MSP.
In the realm of cybersecurity, many organizations simply don’t know what they don’t know. Without turning these “unknown unknowns” into “known knowns”, it’s impossible for organizations to manage their risk profile. By identifying their vulnerabilities and blind spots, leaders can understand where to prioritize their investments.
Businesses typically start this process in one of two ways: by conducting a business impact analysis or by conducting an initial cyber risk assessment.
A business impact analysis assesses your organization’s systems and processes and quantifies how a security event would impact your organization’s business. A cyber risk assessment identifies the security controls your school already has in place and measures them against possible risks. Once the cyber risk assessment is completed, your school will be provided with a series of recommendations.
At Smith + Howard, we provide our clients with a comprehensive roadmap that details a series of recommendations that will improve the security profile of your organization. These are based on a variety of industry frameworks, including CIS Controls, NIST Cybersecurity Framework, and others. Our team serves as trusted advisors on an ongoing basis, guiding your school through the remediation process and helping you develop a comprehensive risk mitigation plan.
Cybersecurity is not a one-off exercise; it’s an ongoing strategy that must be constantly revised as your organization grows and evolves. A key component of this strategy is a risk mitigation plan; a series of steps that your organization should follow to upgrade its security profile.
The core components of a risk mitigation plan include:
The priority level of each of these elements will be driven by the current status of your organization’s IT infrastructure. By working closely with a trusted advisor, you can ensure your organization has the guidance to implement the required changes to build a more secure environment for your community.
Cybersecurity is a major societal challenge and it’s not one that will dissipate anytime soon. As educators, it’s incumbent on independent schools not only to protect their students but to model a strong example of security-aware behaviors and processes for the next generation.
At Smith + Howard, we’re proud to serve as trusted advisors to many nonprofit organizations and independent schools. Our team conducts cyber risk assessments and helps organizations build a roadmap toward a more secure future, guiding IT teams and leaders through the process of strengthening their cybersecurity infrastructure. Our ANAB-accredited team also provides ISO 27001 Certification Services for independent schools with international footprints.
If you’re interested in analyzing the security of your school’s IT infrastructure, contact a Smith + Howard advisor today.
If you have any questions and would like to connect with a team member please call 404-874-6244 or contact an advisor below.CONTACT AN ADVISOR