A lack of resources at the federal level is putting our nation’s K-12 information technology infrastructure at-risk. School networks are being held hostage and individuals are having their identities stolen – all while the federal government studies the problem. School budgets are tight, and their technology professionals are waging a battle with limited resources. A hacker should never be able to shut down a school district. Yet, the federal government has done very little to help. Fortunately, there is one independent federal agency that can provide support. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), under the leadership of Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, is poised to provide meaningful cybersecurity assistance in a timely manner.
On October 8, 2021, President Biden signed into law the K-12 Cybersecurity Act of 2021. This law initiates a review of K-12 cybersecurity risks and should result in new resources and opportunities to protect school networks. This is a small, but meaningful, step forward, and it is welcomed.
Unfortunately, the hackers and other malicious actors have not suspended their activities while the federal government studies the situation. School is in session, and K-12 networks are under constant attack. No one disputes the threat to our nation’s K-12 computer infrastructure. Yet, what is really being done? Studying the problem will not protect our students. If your house is on fire, you don’t head to the library to research the most common causes of fires in homes. You call the fire department. Similarly, K-12 school networks are fighting to stay online and secure. Right now — literally, as you are reading this — a K-12 school network is facing down a well-resourced cyberthreat of some sort. School networks are locked by ransomware attacks and individuals are having their identities stolen.
We do not need another study to tell us that there is a cybersecurity threat or to help us “find” a solution. We already know the problem, and the solutions are readily available. For the relatively small price of $2.389 billion annually, the federal government could provide robust protection for all K-12 schools. The cost of not providing this support is much higher.
Fortunately, the FCC currently is under the leadership of Jessica Rosenworcel. Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel is a longtime advocate for K-12 school networking. She understands that having an unprotected school network is worse than having no network at all. Broadband internet requires a secure and reliable connection – and the FCC can help deliver those connections via the existing federal E-rate funding program.
Rather than having to wait for more federal guidance, Rosenworcel’s FCC can act now; and the Consortium for School Networking has provided a clear roadmap of the next steps that the FCC can take:
- Define all firewalls and related features as “basic” functionality for school and library networks via the current E-rate eligible service list comment period.
- Increase the five-year E-rate Category 2 budget cap to support needed additional cybersecurity investments.
- Update the agency’s definition of broadband to include cybersecurity.
The K-12 Cybersecurity Act of 2021 will eventually lead to more opportunities to safeguard our nation’s vital K-12 computer network infrastructure. While we wait for that outcome, the FCC can move forward immediately, helping secure networks, protect individuals, and keep education in America online.
Additional reading: For a more in-depth discussion on the importance of providing support for cybersecurity, please read “Network Security And Monitoring Should Qualify For E-Rate Support”, part of Funds For Learning’s Funding Year 2021 E-rate Eligible Services List comments.