K-12 schools are struggling with cybersecurity — Here’s how a SIEM can help


K-12 school districts in the U.S. are struggling with cybersecurity. According to a 2022 GAO report, ransomware attacks have cost schools up to three weeks of missed learning and recovery can take as long as nine months. In January 2021, 3,000 K-12 public schools in the U.S. were victim to a large-scale worldwide cyberattack.

In 2021, President Biden signed the K-12 Cybersecurity Act into law, requiring the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) to research security risks and share recommendations with K-12 schools, focusing on both information systems and sensitive student data. As of late 2022, CISA has not yet delivered those recommendations.

Many K-12 districts are investing in SIEM solutions to enhance their security, as well as meet the requirements of cyber liability insurance policies, which can be 100%–300% more expensive for schools without “best in class” defenses.

[Related article: Elastic continues to gain momentum in SIEM market]

Back to basics: What is SIEM?

For those not familiar, SIEM — or security information and event management — is a solution that holistically looks at data from multiple sources, detects attacks, and takes action. SIEM technology combines SIM (security information management) and SEM (security event management), and has security data analysis at the heart of its functionality. 

A SIEM can be a powerful tool in combating cyber risks if you implement it as part of your district’s holistic security strategy. Depending on the size and scope of your organization, you may already have a SIEM, or one you need to re-evaluate — 47% of public sector organizations intend to replace or augment their SIEM. As districts look to purchase a SIEM, make sure you’re getting the most possible value out of your solution.

Why your K-12 school district needs a SIEM

Data is multiplying, and SIEMs can scale. It is increasingly common for data conversations to focus around the word “petabytes.” SIEM technology can aggregate all this information from any source and enable your IT team to find anomalies in real time — and thwart threats proactively, before they have time to affect learning or access student data. And because data comes in both structured and unstructured forms, a SIEM that can quickly sift through any type of data is essential.

SIEM consolidates tools for IT teams. School districts are competing with private sector organizations for IT and security talent and encountering recruiting challenges typical in the public sector. Under-resourced teams have too much work to handle proactively, making automation and data consolidation at scale essential — along with the ability to aggregate under a single view. 

Additionally, cloud-based solutions help put SIEM tools within the affordability range of districts that may previously not have had the resources for an on-premises solution. 

SIEM empowers teams to make mission-critical decisions quickly. With a single unified agent, you can deepen host visibility, block ransomware and malware, streamline inspection, and invoke remote response action. This is crucial in a cybersecurity environment where every second counts in protecting learning systems and student privacy.

What are some key considerations for successful K-12 SIEM implementation?

There are a number of considerations to look out for when choosing your SIEM solution — such as how often you add data sources, the size of your team, and what your current processes look like. In addition to the more common factors, for K-12 schools specifically, we recommend keeping the following top of mind: 

1) Ability to search archives quickly 

Many SIEM solutions — especially legacy SIEM solutions — only keep a month or less of data and force older data to “cold storage,” which is typically slow to access and cumbersome to manage. Access to a more complete set of data can be invaluable for response, as a data breach takes an average of 212 days to be detected.

2) SIEM + endpoint protection

K-12 cyber attacks often target endpoints, such as desktops and laptops, whose users may be unaware of lurking threats. Because of this risk, a SIEM should ideally work in tandem with an endpoint detection and response solution (EDR) for unified visibility and response.

3) Speed at scale

As your organization's data grows, your need for scalability and speed increases. Consider not just how fast a SIEM solution is now, with the data sources you currently use, but project how much data you may consume in the future and how quickly you can search this data.

4) Efficient log storage 

Pay attention to a SIEM provider's fee structure. Many legacy SIEM platforms base licensing cost on the amount of daily storage you use. That pricing model can become unmanageable during a significant increase in data collection. Look for a flexible solution that will scale with your organization.

5) On-prem or in cloud 

It’s important to know how much flexibility solution providers are offering around cloud and on-prem. Some SIEM solutions are available only on cloud, which may be a deal-breaker for districts that need an on-prem solution, or at least the option for it.

Learn more about SIEM for education