When Iowa Congressman Zach Nunn served on the White House’s National Security Council, he witnessed the dramatic impact of cybersecurity incidents. Nunn became especially concerned about how cybersecurity crimes impact schools and their ability to educate students. He also realized how the growing threats have been making it easier to disrupt not only individual schools but entire school systems.

“These are no longer attackers in basements or individuals who intend to do harm for a one-time profit,” Nunn told KGLO News. “These are now nation states, places like North Korea, the Islamic Republican Guard Corps out of Iran, Russian activists who are intentionally looking to steal information that can harm Americans for decades and generations.”

Recently K-12 schools have found themselves increasingly in the crosshairs of cyber criminals. In September 2022, the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency issued an advisory that the Vice Society, a ransomware group, is launching ransomware attacks against educational institutions, specifically K-12. Numerous schools have canceled classes due to ransomware attacks, including an attack in Des Moines, Iowa, in January 2023, affecting 30,000 kids, and a February 2023 attack on a West Virginia district of 19,000 students that also involved student personal data.

Nunn decided to take action by proposing the bipartisan Enhancing K–12 Cybersecurity Act, which was co-led by Representative Doris Matsui, in April 2023. The bill focuses on making it easier for schools to get the latest information about cyberattacks, as well as prevention.

The bill also increases the resources schools need to improve cybersecurity and proactively prevent attacks. Six national education organizations endorse the Act, including the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) and the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).

Key components of the Enhancing K-12 Cybersecurity Act

The cornerstone of the Act focuses on creating the School Cybersecurity Information Exchange. This publicly accessible website contains cybersecurity best 12 practices, training and lessons that specifically target the needs of K-12 schools. Federal, state, local and non-government organizations will collaborate to create the information for the Exchange. The Act provides multiple ways schools and school systems can improve cybersecurity protection and recovery.

Schools can use a database on the site to identify cybersecurity tools and services funded by the federal government, as well as tools and services recommended for purchase with state and local government funding. The Exchange also provides a database of funding opportunities for schools to improve cybersecurity.

In addition, the Act establishes a Cybersecurity Incident Registry for school-related incidents to help schools understand risks and best practices. The registry will include dates of the incident, description, effects on the school and any other information that can help schools prevent future attacks. The Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency determines what types of incidents to include in the registry and establishes the process for approval.

The proposed legislation also creates the K-12 Cybersecurity Technology Improvement Program to help provide information that reduces risks and threats to K-12 schools. The program installs tools, makes cybersecurity services available and offers training opportunities to school personnel.

As demonstrated by recent attacks on school districts, cyber crime in the education sector doesn’t just affect data and systems but also students’ ability to learn. By providing schools with additional resources, teachers can focus their efforts on teaching their students instead of recovering from a cyberattack.

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