Warner, Collins urge Department of Education to empower schools to bolster cyber defenses
Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) are pushing the Biden administration to ensure that school systems across the country are equipped to fend off the growing number of cyberattacks targeting K-12 schools.
In a letter to the Department of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, the senators requested that the department issue guidance affirming that school districts across the country have the authority to use federal dollars from two COVID-19 relief funds on cybersecurity resources.
The two funds – Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund and Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund – were authorized by the CARES Act supported by both senators.
“Experts agree that the increased reliance on online learning programs is likely to far outlast the pandemic. While online learning offers an abundance of positive opportunities for educators and students, without proper cybersecurity defenses, our nation’s education systems face formidable risks,” the senators wrote. “School systems must have strong cybersecurity resources available to protect themselves against cyber and ransom attacks. With the increasingly persistent attacks on our schools, they simply cannot wait until they are a target to take action.”
In the letter, the Senators highlighted last year’s cybersecurity breach at Fairfax County Public Schools, the 11th largest school district in the nation, which had private information stolen and published online.
The senators also cited a report from the Government Accountability Office, which found that since 2016, more than 17,000 public school districts and approximately 98,000 public schools have experienced breaches that resulted in the disclosure of personal information.
Noting that they have heard from school district leaders who are unsure as to whether they can use relief funds to adopt better cybersecurity measures, the senators specifically requested that the Department of Education publish and publicize guidance clearly stating that these funds may be used to improve cybersecurity. The senators also urged the department to provide recommended cybersecurity benchmarks as well as guidance on suggested spending priorities to best address the disproportionate number of cyber-threats facing school systems.