Government & Politics

Missouri schools to undergo cybersecurity audit

You’ve seen the headlines and heard the accounts about staggering data breaches and the personal information of millions being out there, somewhere in the cyber universe.

The mass cyber tamperings and thefts have even touched some K-12 schools, which have been attacked from outside intruders or students surfing for trouble online.

That’s why Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway on Wednesday announced the start of her cybersecurity audit initiative in the state’s schools.

Experts say it’s difficult to know exactly how frequently school systems experience data compromises because it could happen without anyone knowing.

But according to the nonprofit Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, what is known is that in the past 10 years, more than 250 K-12 schools across the United States have experienced a data breach. In some cases — including instances this year in North Carolina, Texas, Florida and California — hackers gained access to information for thousands of students, faculty and staff.

Galloway’s initiative, Cyber Aware School Audits, will focus on identifying practices that improve the security of information that schools have on students and their families.

“For every parent who has provided health records to the school nurse, authorized bank debits for a lunch plan or exchanged emails with a teacher about concerns in the classroom, there are real consequences to having that information released to individuals who might seek to profit from or exploit it,” Galloway said in a statement announcing the initiative.

The audits will access the effectiveness of schools’ cybersecurity safeguards and review the school district’s ability to detect a breach and the planned response. It also will look at student personal information accessibility and protection, technology use policies, and student and staff privacy and security awareness training.

One Kansas City area district — Park Hill — is among the five selected for the first round of cyber audits. Other districts participating are in Boonville, Cape Girardeau, Orchard Farm and Waynesville. Other districts are to be named in 2016.

“We are excited to do it and we think that it’s a good process,” said Jeanette Cowherd, interim superintendent at Park Hill. We are proud of all the work we do to protect student and staff information, but we are open to learning anything more we could be doing.”

Mará Rose Williams: 816-234-4419, @marawilliamskc