K-12 schools are facing some daunting challenges these days. The COVID-19 pandemic had a profound impact as schools were forced almost overnight to change the way their staff delivered, and students received, much needed education. Many schools were simply not ready to deploy distributed and virtual education infrastructure.

Distance learning quickly exposed challenges in the suitability of legacy infrastructures, applications, and products to deliver an agreeable educational experience. Fortunately, due to the dedication of educators and an influx of Federal funding programs, schools recovered and have started to plan for the future. 

But unfortunately, distance learning also led to a tremendous spike in cybersecurity incidents. This past March, the K-12 Cybersecurity Resource Center and the K12 Security Information Exchange reported that the number of publicly disclosed cybersecurity incidents affecting K-12 school systems rose by 18% in 2020 over the prior year.

Ransomware attacks against educational institutions had already increased significantly in 2019; the pandemic-imposed distance learning environment brought those threats to a new level. A December 2020 joint report from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), and the Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center (MS-ISAC) found that the K–12 education segment was the No. 1 target for ransomware and represents the majority of all ransomware attacks. Their report noted that 57 percent of all reported ransomware attacks in August and September of 2020, at the height of the pandemic, were targeted at K–12. That was up from 28 percent over January through July.

That's an especially difficult problem to tackle when factoring in the profile of the users that attackers are targeting: children. Growing up in a continually connected world, the internet is integral to the lives of today's young students. But digital natives aren't necessarily being taught about proper cyber hygiene practices needed to safeguard their home or school technologies. For schools, the risks are compounded by the increased number of personal devices being connected into the school network, where hidden threats can quickly spread. 

In light of these persistent and pernicious threats, schools are now faced with adding another layer of defensive technology and expertise to protect their environments, students and teachers. That requires funding, which is usually in short supply. Fortunately, there is federal help available right now, but the time to use it is running short.

The $2.2T Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), created in response to the economic fallout from COVID-19, became law on March 27, 2020. Among its many objectives, the Act provides emergency funding assistance that K-12 schools can access to advance their technology capabilities for distance learning and ensure continuity of operations. A strengthened cybersecurity posture is essential to that purpose. In particular, the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) was allocated as part of the CARES Act Education Stabilization Fund provision. These funds may be applied to costs dating back to March 13, 2020, but they must be used no later than September 30th, 2022. That means the time to start planning is now.

World Wide Technology stands ready to help K-12 schools quickly assess how to scope and procure the technologies that will make a difference in tackling these and many other challenges. We have been assisting K-12 educational institutions nationwide for over 20 years, providing state-of-the-art technology solutions to help them address critical challenges—from physical and data security, to digital and remote education and networking—with our unique mix of culture and solutions. 

We recognize the challenges schools face in supporting the technology needs of students, teachers and administrative staff, especially as resources are limited or stretched thin. Our goal is to help educational institutions identify, assess and select the right technology to develop innovative digital solutions and services that align with their priorities and represent the best fit to meet the needs of the institution while ensuring student and faculty success.

Our leading technology, combined with deep Professional Services expertise and several decades of successfully executing IT infrastructure projects, make World Wide Technology an ideal K-12 trusted advisor and partner. In addition to Federal stimulus funding, WWT can also provide E-Rate Internal Connections support to our K-12 customers. We attend USAC Service Provider Training classes annually, and maintain good standing with the FCC as demonstrated via Green Light status in the FCC's Red-Light Display System. Our E-Rate Service Provider Identification Number (SPIN) is 143020028, and our FEIN Number is 43-1912895.

WWT is here to help make a new world happen for the K-12 schools that build the foundation of our nation's future. Learn more about stimulus funding opportunities that may help your school advance its educational initiatives. You can also join our E-Rate community to collaborate on best practices for leveraging this vital program.

[1] https://edscoop.com/k12-cyberattacks-rose-2021/

[2] https://thejournal.com/articles/2020/12/11/k12-has-become-the-most-targeted-segment-for-ransomware.aspx