Indiana Takes Action to Protect K-12 Schools From Hackers

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The state has launched a multi-pronged initiative aimed at reducing cybersecurity risks.

Indiana's K-12 schools will gain new access to a slate of grants and other support to help with cybersecurity, under an initiative state agencies unveiled on Thursday.

"This is a great opportunity for our schools to take preventive measures and reduce cyber risk," Dewand Neely, chief technology officer for the Indiana Office of Technology, said in a statement.

Along with the Office of Technology, the state's Department of Education and the Indiana Information Sharing and Analysis Center are taking the lead on the initiative.

"We want to send a message that schools need to prioritize spending on cybersecurity," John Keller, chief technology officer for the Indiana Department of Education, said by phone.

He added that when he described the new cybersecurity initiative Thursday during a conference of Indiana chief technology officers "the thing that really resonated with the group was the idea that there's something here for all schools."

One part of the initiative involves matching grants up to $25,000 (there's enough money in the first grant cycle for about 40 grants at the full funding level, according to Thursday's announcement). The grants would go to school investments in "managed security services," which are outsourced to companies or other organizations.

Other parts of the initiative include:

  • A task force to help guide cybersecurity work at schools, and to promote professional development for tech staff.
  • A "cybersecurity for staff" program, with an emphasis on helping people avoid "phishing" and other pitfalls.
  • Mini-grants of $7,500 to help schools establish a cybersecurity course for students.
  • And a "resource hub" that will serve as a library for information on cybersecurity issues.

Indiana's General Assembly, in its last budget session, earmarked $1 million per-year for cybersecurity, which is going to support the initiative. Keller said he was not aware of any specific, high-profile incidents that had prompted the funding.

"I think it was more of a general concern," he said.

Cyber-threats schools face include "ransomware," where hackers hold data or computer systems hostage until receiving a payment. There's also the possibility staff or student data could be breached or stolen.

"A lot of schools have protections in place, but they don't have the time to look at all of the data that that protection generates," Keller noted. "There's just not enough time in the day."

Bill Lucia is a Senior Reporter for Government Executive's Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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