While the growing reliance of educational institutions on technology has helped to build resilience, it has also created new challenges including heightened exposure to a number of serious cyber threats.
Education remains a prime target for hackers and one of the least protected industries against malicious actors. Last July, the Australian education sector saw an increase of 17% in the number of cybersecurity breaches compared to the first half of 2020.
In one incident, the NSW Department of Education was hacked, forcing a shutdown of many of its online learning platforms.
In 2020, Education Services Australia (ESA) launched the Safer Technologies 4 Schools (ST4S) program as a national initiative that assesses the safety of online education products and services.
The Notifiable Data Breaches Report: July–December 2020, published by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, revealed that the education sector reported the third-highest amount of data breaches, highlighting a need for more robust measures to keep schools safe online.
ST4S was established in collaboration with all Australian state, territory, Catholic and Independent school sectors to develop a nationally consistent security and privacy control framework to help schools reduce risks when choosing digital products and services.
“Now that schools are more reliant than ever on technology, it’s imperative that everyone from education policy makers to classroom teachers understand data security and best practice to minimise threats,” Andrew Smith, CEO at ESA, said.
“We have created a standardised national approach with transparent privacy, security and interoperability standards against which online education services and products are measured.”
The ST4S program supports vendors and schools in understanding potential risks for users and their data, and assists educators in choosing applications by providing clear, consistent information about safety, security and privacy.
A recent survey of the education sector revealed more than 4,000 online education products and services used across Australian schools, with these numbers continually increasing.
Anthony Yaremenko, Program Manager of the National Schools Interoperability Program (NISP) at ESA, says the ST4S program has already assessed over 200 products with the results already contributing to a safer eco-system for schools.
Yaremenko notes that more than one-third of the products assessed have required vendors to make security and privacy improvements to meet the criteria, with many more committing to making the necessary changes,
“Schools are experiencing improved awareness of security and privacy and reduced risk when choosing education technology products, and vendors’ compliance costs have decreased because there is no longer a requirement for multiple local assessments.”