This article is an expanded version of the “2 minute tech talk” I gave to the Fort Lee Regional Chamber of Commerce on September 16, 2020.

I spend time each day reading technology publications, newsletters, and Google Alerts about data breaches and cybersecurity. I do this because it is my responsibility as a Technology Solutions Provider. Based on recent trends, I believe that the general public is not aware that the COVID-19 pandemic has created a unique environment for attackers.

Every business sector faces the problem of how to define the appropriate level of cybersecurity. A significant challenge for businesses is that they have most of their staff working from home for the first time. Their traditional approach was to keep untrusted devices off their networks. With that premise upended, business owners must now contend with a new wave of threats from unpatched home computers running on unsecured home networks.

Cybercriminals invariably seek to exploit vulnerabilities of institutions. Unfortunately, many school districts are unprepared for this new challenge and are potential victims. On top of dealing with everyday issues like cyberbullying and sexting, the education sector faces some unique challenges.

First, it is a leading target for attackers. According to Microsoft Security Intelligence, the education sector accounted for 60 percent of all reported enterprise malware in the past 30 days. Since September 1st, a half-dozen schools have experienced ransomware attacks, including the Somerset Hills school district here in New Jersey.

Second, the education sector frequently uses older systems, and one of the most significant vulnerabilities is the continued use of Windows 7. Microsoft ended support for this operating system in January, which means it is no longer issuing patches for new security vulnerabilities. According to a study released in the spring, roughly 10 percent of the nation’s schools are still using Windows 7 computers. Many students may be using these older machines at home because it is common for children to be using older, hand-me-down devices.

States and school districts need to dedicate money and resources to ensure students can learn in a secure environment. However, financing the requisite level of security is problematic. Governor Murphy initially slated increased funding in the 2020 – 2021 budget but had to revise that downward after the pandemic began. For example, the Fort Lee school district’s budget was pared down by $352 million.

I hope learning about cybersecurity will eventually become part of the K-12 curriculum. That will require new coursework and additional funding. It would behoove the state to invest in more training and support for teachers, staff, and students to learn and practice good cyber hygiene to keep everyone safe.

If you are unsure how your school is implementing security measures to protect their students, contact the district office and ask. But keep in mind, there are two sides to the remote learning equation: The school’s and yours.

Here are five steps you can take to improve the security posture of children attending K-12 via distance learning.

  1. Make sure you are using an updated Windows 10 computer, an Apple computer running Catalina, or a Google Chromebook.
  2. Windows computers should not use a free internet security product because it will not protect your computer from most malicious attacks.
  3. Make sure your home Wi-Fi network router has the latest firmware update, that you use encrypted protocols, and that you employ a complex password.
  4. Check for router firmware updates twice a year (just like you test your smoke detectors when we enter and leave Daylight Savings Time), and change your password each time you update it.
  5. Ensure that your home network has a secure connection to the school district’s resources, preferably through a VPN.

Note that these are also useful practices for anyone who is working remotely from their office.

Thanks, and safe computing!

Think back to the first time you ordered a book on Amazon.com. Wasn’t that a miraculous experience?

Just the thought of not having to sit in traffic to drive to the mall, and the ability to avoid the crowds while you sat at your desk and browsed through thousands of books without screaming kids or having someone looking over your shoulder as you decided between two authors. All of that was achieved with cloud technology. Of course, back then you used dial-up technology to connect to the internet. Things were slow, but you didn’t care – you thought that it was wonderful.

My, what a difference a decade has made!

The simple fact is, cloud computing is NOT a good fit for every company, and if you don’t get all the facts or fully understand the pros and cons, you can end up making some VERY poor and expensive decisions that you’ll deeply regret later.

First, you’ve got to review the standard features of any cloud-based software product. These include flexibility in terms of migrating your existing data to the software vendor’s product, thus obviating the need for hardware expenditures. You’ll be in a position to give your employees the ability to collaborate on the same information at the same time even if they are in diverse locations. And lastly, you will be able to scale up (or ramp down) the number of software licenses to match the speed of growth within your organization.

So if you are interested in using cloud technology for your business, you must start with your internet connection; in this case, the faster the better – as long as it fits within your budget. And, as a successful business owner, you know that something can go wrong at the most in opportune time and you know that you want to avoid that. Therefore, you should ask your IT professional about a cellular failover device to provide redundant back-up service for your internet service provider’s service.

When you work with any cloud software vendor you must understand that they will be keeping YOUR data on THEIR servers. You should find out from the software vendor how they will protect your data from any form of breach, and what actions they will take on your behalf if such an event occurs.

And, because your data is an integral part of your business, you have to ensure that it is backed-up as well as protected. By moving to the cloud you do not get to forego standard data-related housekeeping chores; you simply offload the responsibility to another party. But you should ascertain that they are going to be good stewards of your information by asking them how often data is backed up, and what their retention scheme is.

You will also want to review any and all mechanisms available to you if you decide to terminate your arrangement with the cloud provider. Reasons for this can be varied: They may be going out of business; you may feel you can no longer work within the constraints of the product because it has not evolved over time; or your organization has grown to the point that the product no longer suits your needs. At the very least, you don’t want your data to be held hostage. It is, after all your data. Know beforehand about the means to download it or how you could perform a data migration to another vendor.

All of this means that you should carefully review all of the terms and conditions associated with your account. If you are unsure of anything, or how you would be affected, print it out and have your lawyer review the document.

Because you’ve read this post, I’d like to offer you a FREE Cloud Readiness Assessment to show you there IS a better way to upgrade your computer network AND to demonstrate how a truly competent IT professional (not just a “computer guy”) can guide your company to greater profits and efficiencies, help you be more strategic, and give you the tools and systems to fuel growth.

To respond, please call our office at 866-912-8808 and ask for me, Larry. I personally want to take your call to answer any questions about this blog post, my company, and how we might be able to help you.