Every moment of every day, anyone or any organization, government or institution – including K-12 – can fall victim to the latest threats and cyber-attacks. If you’re accountable for the network security of an entire school district, you know your success rests largely on everyone understanding and staying current with today’s complex and dynamic risk environment and how to avoid it.
K-12 IT expert Larry Padgett bears this out: “The most important thing is to get everybody to agree that technology security is everyone’s game, everybody on campus, and every division, department and schools must be fully engaged. Otherwise, it is going to be very difficult to be successful.”
Larry is the Director of IT Infrastructure, System Support, Security, and Governance for the School District of Palm Beach County (SDPBC). A career technology leader for more than 29 years, Larry oversees an IT infrastructure that is considered larger than the Coca-Cola® Company in terms of the number of ports and how his networks are laid out. SDPBC is one of the largest school district in the United States, with 187 schools and 225,000 thousands user accounts under management, including students, faculty, and general staff.
I had the privilege of meeting Larry at the 2015 SonicWall World Conference in Austin, Texas, where I had the opportunity to ask him specifically about the things that he is doing differently that allowed SDPBC to be successful.
Larry explained how security vendors typically talk about security as a layered approach but it can’t end there. He then described SDPBC’s winning approach to security rests on three core pillars: people, process and technology.
You must identify those who are, and who aren’t, fully engaged in exercising cyber hygiene within your district. You are responsible for every PC, servers and applications on your network. You’ll need to know if you are getting support from the board and leadership level down to everyone in the district.
- How do you know if they are knowledgeable about security?
- Can they identify the risks?
- Do they all understand the risks?
- What trial and test do you have in place to measure how knowledgeable they are about security?
If they’re not all engaged, you’re simply not going to be as successful as you could be. If they’re not as knowledgeable as they need to be, you would want to start discussing security as an everyday topic in your staff meetings, in the classrooms and, more importantly, in your executive and board room discussions. If security isn’t one of the top topics on the board agenda, you have much important work to do to get their buy-in, because nowadays, security is a key risk metric. Your ultimate goal is to get everybody to agree that security is everyone’s game so they become proactively involved in helping your institution be successful.
When there are people involved, you also need to have processes in place that would allow you to make sure that you are doing the right things, that they are doing them well and that what they do is actually effective for the state of business you’re currently operating in.
- What processes are you using?
- Have you written them down?
- How do you know if they are being followed?
- How are they monitored and measured?
These are questions that enable you to think through all of the risks that you’re going to mitigate, and follow-through with implementing robust security policies and practices that can help put you in a better position for success.
Begin embracing a layered security approach as part of your defense-in-depth framework, because it provides you an effective and proactive way to help fend off today’s advanced threats. At a minimum, the top five security services that you must have as part of your layered security defense are:
- A capable intrusion prevention system with threat detection services that can provide complete anti-evasion and inbound anti-spam, anti-phishing and anti-virus protection
- SSL inspection to detect and prevent today’s advance evasive tactics and compromised web sites from sneaking malware into your network though the use of encryption
- Around-the-clock threat counter-intelligence for your next-generation firewalls and intrusion prevention systems, so you can receive the latest countermeasures to combat new vulnerabilities as they are discovered
- Email filtering and encryption to secure both inbound and outbound communications
- Security for endpoints, since most network infections begin with a compromised user device