Everett Public Schools chief information officer Brian Beckley, left, and state coordinator for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) Ian Moore, right, in the server room at the Everett Public Schools Community Resource Center on Tuesday, March 21, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Everett Public Schools chief information officer Brian Beckley, left, and state coordinator for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) Ian Moore, right, in the server room at the Everett Public Schools Community Resource Center on Tuesday, March 21, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Schools are ‘target rich’ for cyberattacks, fed agency helps fight back

A Cascade High School grad is heading up the effort in Washington. This week, he checked in with Everett school leaders.

EVERETT — Schools have a lot of information — and not just the educational kind.

Social security numbers, addresses, staff members’ banking information, the list goes on. That data is stored digitally, and schools are increasingly a prime target for cybercriminals seeking to steal the sensitive information.

Ian Moore, state coordinator for the federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), works with school administrations around Washington to help safeguard the data by shoring up their defenses. On Tuesday, he made a stop in Everett.

“There are so many schools throughout the nation, that statistically there’s attacks going on right now — whether (the schools) know it or not,” said Moore, a Cascade High School graduate, during an interview with the Herald last week.

Moore’s visit comes about a month after a data breach in the Edmonds School District.

“Suspicious activities” on the district’s network between Jan. 16 and Jan. 31 forced an internet outage for about two weeks. The breach potentially exposed date of births, driver’s license numbers, financial account information, medical information and student identification numbers.

Brian Beckley, chief information officer at Everett Public Schools, said technology is “how we run our district” through everything from providing class materials to delivering instruction to storing information. Having a safe and secure network, he said, is one of the school’s focuses.

“School districts connecting with CISA is a really proactive approach,” Beckley said. “I want to assure the community and the parents that this is a daily focus for us.”

A 2022 report on cybersecurity attacks in public schools found that the number of attacks on schools is perhaps 10 to 20 times more than evidence suggests, as many attacks go undiscovered or unreported. To help quell the attacks, CISA began partnering with K-12 schools this year to provide cybersecurity help free of charge.

Often, schools have little educational funding to invest in cybersecurity and their IT departments can get stretched thin. Because of that, they are “target rich and resource poor,” Moore said.

But in Everett, voters have helped back the school district’s efforts to fend off cyberatttacks.

Everett Public Schools chief information officer, Brian Beckley, pulls open a document at the Everett Public Schools Community Resource Center on Tuesday, March 21, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Everett Public Schools chief information officer, Brian Beckley, pulls open a document at the Everett Public Schools Community Resource Center on Tuesday, March 21, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

In 2016, voters passed a six-year levy that dedicated $22.7 million for technology maintenance projects. In 2022, voters approved a six-year, capital levy that allocated $96 million to technology systems, equipment and services.

“We’re in a good position in Everett because we have passed (those) levies,” Beckley said. “We’re really grateful for our community and the resources we have that other districts might not have.”

CISA created an online toolkit to help school administration understand what steps they can take to protect data. It offers a three-pronged approach, Moore said.

First, simple safety measures, such as multi-factor authentication, can be implemented immediately. Then schools can take various suggested physical actions based on national findings from other cyberattacks. Finally, schools can partner with other agencies, like the Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center or regional cybersecurity, to have personnel do assessments, offer technical services and do training for schools.

“We are not taking the protection of students and their information lightly,” Beckley said.

Beckley and Moore also want parents to know that they can help, too.

“Have good passwords,” Moore said, encouraging an array of capitalized and lowercase letters, special characters and numbers. He also encouraged parents to keep operating systems up to date, check that websites display a lock symbol in the left corner of the bar and to stay involved with children’s use of the internet. Teaching safe internet practices to children is important, they agreed.

For Moore, working to help Everett School District has been a bit of a homecoming. He went to Evergreen Middle School before attending and graduating from Cascade High.

“Being able to come back home and support the Everett School District in this way — it’s almost surreal because I get to give back,” Moore said. “They put all that effort from sixth grade on into me, and I go out and travel the world, and I come back, and now I’m like, ‘Okay, I’m a cybersecurity guy.’ So that’s actually a really cool thing.”

Kayla J. Dunn: 425-339-3449; kayla.dunn@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @KaylaJ_Dunn.

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