Category: Education

How Wichita State University Improved Endpoint Visibility & Control

Long gone are the days when institutional data sits within a single, secure perimeter. Sensitive information now resides on multiple mobile endpoints handled by users who are constantly making changes to them. As more and more higher education institutions adopt 1:1 device programs, the challenge of securing that data only amplifies.
Wichita State University (WSU), a public university in Wichita, Kansas that serves about 15,000 students, has experienced a mounting challenge managing their IT infrastructure and keeping the university’s device population secure. The growing number of staff, professors and students who travel with school-owned laptops off campus only increases the risk.

WSU’s IT team manages thousands of university-owned laptops, on top of numerous desktops and servers across campus. For those laptops being taken off campus, IT had been lacking visibility into where those devices would go after they left the network perimeter. At times, these devices had even gone missing and the team lacked the appropriate tools to find them or wipe the proprietary data that was stored on their endpoints.
The catalyst for change came when a state security audit revealed that WSU was not meeting certain security and compliance requirements. The IT team realized that they would need to implement additional data security measures, including the ability to track school-owned devices. In addition, they would have to be able to demonstrate that the university was meeting and maintaining compliance standards with the Office of Civil Rights, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) standards.
On top of finding a solution to meet their data security, compliance and asset management requirements, WSU’s IT team needed a tool that would create additional efficiencies for their own team, considering the size of their network, device population and security program.
Continuous Visibility and Control
After a short search for a solution, the WSU IT team brought in Absolute. By activating Absolute on thousands of its devices that were off-campus, WSU’s IT team now has visibility into their endpoints traveling outside of the boundaries of the network. Absolute’s patented Persistence technology also ensures the ability to self-heal should a user tamper with the security on the device.
The WSU IT staff is also using Absolute to deploy and confirm full disk encryption, and now has the ability to track and lock devices, or freeze and wipe the data. The ability to manage and secure the endpoint population has also helped WSU gain and maintain ongoing compliance with HIPAA, PCI-DSS, FERPA and other state requirements.
Using Absolute, WSU can now:

Track and manage assets. The IT team has visibility and control into devices that are both on and off the network.
Secure endpoints and enhance data security. WSU can remotely confirm active encryption and endpoint security controls.
Meet and maintain compliance. They can now discover sensitive data (PHI and PCI) on their endpoints, and automate the response to delete the data at risk or freeze or contain the device.

“We’ve had success with detecting laptops that have ‘walked off’ of campus, and using Absolute to detect those cases, we were then able to remediate [those potential security threats],” said Matt Seiwert, Information Security Analyst at Wichita State University.
To read the full story behind WSU’s improved visibility and control, read the story here and also learn more about how Absolute supports education institutions.

5 Back-to-School Security Tips for K-12

It’s back-to-school season and while students and their families shop for new clothes, backpacks and school supplies, teachers and administrators are also busy outfitting their schools with tools to support a productive and safe school year. There’s no question technology is a core component for creating powerful learning environments. Seventy-five percent of teachers today use technology in their classrooms on a daily basis. But with technology adoption comes risks to teachers, staff, and students that must not be overlooked.
While cybersecurity is a constant challenge for any industry, the education sector is particularly hard hit. According to Verizon’s 2017 Data Breach Investigations Report, the number of total security incidents in the education sector outranked both healthcare and retail. This is partly due to limited school funding and the fact school district networks house a variety of sensitive information including credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, and sometimes even medical information.
Data breaches, ransomware and student misuse, whether intentional or not, all contribute to insecurity within K-12. Regardless of the type or severity of attack, it’s clear that educational institutions need to have a strategy in place for minimizing the potential of a security breach as well as a recovery plan for after one hits. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution for combating threats, investing in the right tools and crafting appropriate processes or procedures can significantly reduce their impact.
Another challenge that comes along with the digital transformation of the classroom is the inability for school districts to demonstrate that technology is having a real impact on learning outcomes, which in turn impacts their ability to secure new investment in the near future. If you can’t prove devices are being used effectively and that they improve student performance, securing future technology investments is virtually a leap of faith.
Here are five key best practices that foster a safe and effective learning environment for students and staff along with some useful tips from our education customers.

Promote awareness. As technology continues to evolve, so will the number of risks and cybersecurity issues. You need to constantly refresh your IT staff on the latest policies, procedures, and compliance regulations to make sure they remain up to date. Teachers and parents must also work together to highlight and enforce the 9 Pillars of Digital Citizenship with students. These pillars include information on basic digital literacy, rights and responsibilities, online safety awareness, password protection and appropriate usage. For example, one of our customers has posters throughout their different campuses and stickers on their computers, promoting best practices and deterring criminals by making it very clear that all devices are protected.
Set strict guidelines and policies. Make sure your IT team sets clear usage policies and strictly enforces them. For example, you might require teachers to have security software installed on their devices. Closely monitor how students and staff use devices and apps, both on and off the school’s network. For example, one of our high school district customers issues a comprehensive policy for staff that outlines regulations for how technology should be used responsibly to support their teaching programs. The district also has an acceptable technology use document that students and parents are required to review and sign annually.
Correlate student performance with appropriate use of technology. Your school district has purchased devices for the students and staff, but how you hold the users accountable for them is a different story. Your IT staff needs to be able to tell whether school-owned devices are being used for the intended purposes or if they are sitting in a drawer, on or off the school´s network. Then this information can be compared to academic performance at the student, teacher, classroom or even school level, to ensure consistent results across the district.
Protect sensitive data. With ransomware attacks on the rise, perform regular backups of all critical information to limit the impact of a data breach. Ideally, all devices should be encrypted at all times and should not contain any sensitive data or have unauthorized software installed that the user is not allowed to access to do their job. For example, thousands of our customers routinely scan for credit card information, other sensitive data or unauthorized apps, and check encryption status on all devices.
Build an incident-response playbook. More schools and IT departments are integrating cybercrime response into their school’s crisis plan so that students and staff can be educated and prepared if and when a crisis occurs. These plans should serve as living documents that include initial response proposals as well as long-term plans, and also be accompanied by tools that allow your IT staff to gain operational efficiencies to ensure a quick response. For example, if a device is reported lost or stolen, your IT staff should be able to confirm that the device was encrypted at the time of the incident, or remotely wipe it or lock it down to render it useless until it is recovered.

While K-12 schools will continue to be a top target for cyber threats in this and future school years, focusing on basic cybersecurity practices and investing in the right technology and procedures will help prevent staff, teachers, and students from becoming victims of the next major data breach.
Learn how top performing schools use Absolute to empower safe, smart and secure learning environments on Absolute.com and watch our video about Santa Margarita High School, winner of our 2018 Trailblazer Award.
Absolute K-12 security

Reinforce Learning with Summer Device Programs

Earlier this month, I wrote about how an end-of-year device collection policy may be an unnecessary drain on IT resources. With the support of endpoint tools, districts can perform remote device maintenance, keep track of device inventory and automatically enforce compliance with student privacy regulations such as the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). With these tools in place, it also becomes possible to support a year-round 1:1 program that can be instrumental in supporting student’s education and the inevitable “Summer Brain Drain.”
On average, students lose 2 months of reading skills and 2.6 months of math skills over the summer. Teachers spend up to six weeks of fall class time re-teaching old materials to make up for this loss. The good news is, it doesn’t take much to prevent this loss – as little as 2 or 3 hours per week. School districts looking to reduce the impact of Summer Brain Drain can take a two-pronged approach:

Promote an active lifestyle with outdoor play and sports to help concentration and learning
Support a summer learning program that runs itself

Let’s unpack that second point. Recognizing that teachers spend a significant amount of time helping students re-learn materials from the previous year, an up-front investment in time can be made to support autonomous summer learning programs that prevent this loss. With student access to 1:1 devices during the summer months, students can be prompted to maintain a base level of weekly reading and can work through approved curriculum via education apps or an online lesson plan developed by teachers.
Unlike summer book reports which held little accountability over the summer months, classroom management programs can monitor student progress throughout the summer with no involvement from the teacher. With engaging applications, kids will love the excuse to use them (i.e. Hey Mom, I have to play this game!) and school districts can get a jump start on back to school.
Need help getting your school’s device program set up for year-round support? Drop us a line and we’d be happy to help.

What is Your K12 Device Policy for Summer Vacation?

As we approach school summer vacation, K12 school districts are preparing for end-of-year device support. For some school districts, this involves collecting, inventorying and checking over devices as they come in and are stored over the summer. For others, this involves creating a more comprehensive device management strategy to support the continued use of devices to support learning in the summer months.
End-of-year device collection: Is it necessary?
For most districts with one-to-one device policies, devices will be returned over the summer months in order to retain greater control over devices as students leave the district.
What about device maintenance?
For some districts, summer break is when devices will be reimaged and updated in preparation for the next year. With today’s technology, there is no longer a need to ’touch’ devices to keep them updated or reimage them for other students, negating the need to return devices for maintenance. Boosted by the Absolute platform, these devices can be supported on or off the network, meaning devices can continue to receive any security-critical patches over the summer.
Return and redistribution eats up IT time 
The year-end can be a stressful time for IT departments, who go through the time consuming process of ensuring all devices are returned to the school. Inevitably, returns are staggered and missing devices need to be tracked down. Although device management tools can help track down rogue devices, solutions such as the Absolute platform can provide a snapshot inventory of a large fleet of devices, leaving districts to consider: why are we asking for devices to be returned if we can always see where they are?
Support learning with year-round device access
There is the opportunity to support year-round, one-to-one programs, allowing students to take their devices home for the summer. School districts preparing for year-round, one-to-one programs can ensure their success with the following tips:

Create a User Agreement for the summer months that includes a clear device policy that specifically outlines use of 1:1 devices outside of school. Top risk points for devices outside of school are storage in a car, travel, and use in areas such as restaurants, cafes and outdoor areas.
Support Device Returns for students graduating or opting out of the program. For students who leave mid-break, provide guidance on when and where devices can be returned during the summer.
Limit Application Installations to avoid the introduction of apps that may violate the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) regulations for the privacy of student data or applications that could come with a higher malware risk. This is particularly important for Chromebook deployments.
Device Loss or Theft should be reported immediately, not when school comes back. Remind students of this now. School districts can reduce IT asset loss by setting up geographical restrictions or alerts.
Support Zero-Touch Maintenance using a tool that can repair or replace critical apps that have been disabled or removed, detect and uninstall unauthorized apps, and push updates on or off the network. Remotely detect and remediate devices to prevent security issues and ensure compliance.

Of course, beyond simplifying IT costs associated with year-end device returns and maintenance, the real benefit to year-round device access is to avoid “summer brain drain.” Stay tuned for our next post on how to Reinforce Learning with Summer Programs.

To learn more about how top performing schools use Absolute to empower safe, smart and secure students, visit Absolute for Education.

Technology Education is a Community Effort

As educators help shape our leaders of tomorrow, they rely on technology platforms to provide students with the skills they need for success. Recent data demonstrates that technology has the potential to boost student learning and test scores but technology fluency is only one piece of the puzzle. Perhaps equally as important is the notion that today’s educators have the opportunity to teach good digital citizenship, in order to instill long-term best practices and behaviors. This is best done using a two-part approach: in the classroom and with the support of the wider community.
Classroom Learning
In early education, the foundations of digital citizenship often center on digital literacy, or the use of technology, and the basics of security such as device safety and password security. Over time, the concept of digital citizenship is expanded to include digital etiquette, rights & responsibilities, and physical and psychological well-being in a digital world. As with other effective teaching methods, these lessons are best taught hands-on with school devices and reinforced at home, where students often have devices of their own.
“When you look at technology on the school campus, you have to look at the whole structure of how is it impacting the students, the staff and the teachers…our 1:1 program is used daily, every single day by every single student and teacher. We’re offering an education tool that everyone is using in the classroom and organizing themselves for a future career.” – Peter Leonard, Director of IT, Santa Margarita High School
Community Reinforcement
Digital citizenship education should also be extended to the community, to help parents understand and address these same important topics through meaningful conversations with their kids. We often recommend this year-long program to engage parents, and additionally Absolute has presented to parents (and the community at large) through our Safe Schools program. This initiative is all about spotting and avoiding risk scenarios, responsible behavior and also theft-awareness to prevent students from becoming targets. Together, communities and schools can tackle the growing issues of digital citizenship which also includes a frequent and unfortunate side-effect – cyberbullying.
Sadly, our youth must face a variety of challenges in the digital world. Cyberbullying is a growing and troubling issue, often reinforced by its nearly invisible nature. Digital citizenship is an integral part of effectively preventing and responding to cyberbullying and it’s most effective when schools and communities work together. There are many reliable resources that schools can lean on to engage students on their digital responsibilities (to speak up) and digital etiquette.
Chances are your school district is investing heavily in technology to support learning. Many school districts also choose to rely on Absolute to provide trusted device management to alert for suspicious device activity and enforce Internet Safety Policies. Our Student Technology Analytics provides data-driven insight on users and groups correlated to academic performance, giving you a tangible reference to inform decisions and justify ROI. We can even pinpoint students who may be attempting to modify a device, allowing districts to intervene effectively to protect both the device and further educate the student.
Digital citizenship is an expansive topic, from the basics of computer literacy to more advanced digital etiquette with much in between. It requires an all-hands-on approach to be successful.

Creating a Compelling Case for Ongoing EdTech Investment

Many school districts face deficits in the coming fiscal year, so districts, schools and educators are getting more creative in their efforts to fund technology in the classroom. From public and private grants, to ‘crowdfunding,’ business partnerships and ballot initiatives, it has become increasingly challenging to maintain technology investment.
Philadelphia’s school district recently reported an estimated $700 million deficit by 2020. Education funding in Iowa came under fire for not keeping pace with rising costs, forcing budget cuts that put STEM programs at risk. Reports like this are not isolated across the US, Canada or in the UK, as one report recently uncovered. Public funding and grants are being cut back, making it hard for school districts to find or protect the technology funding that support the edtech programs only recently introduced into our schools.
Within an increasingly competitive marketplace for funding, districts needs to ‘market’ themselves effectively to gain (and keep) funding. Whether it’s through a crowdfunding platform such as My Class Needs or DonorsChoose, or competing for a grant, educators need to “put their best foot forward,” to create a compelling argument for technology investment for procurement and maintenance – and back it up with facts. Edtech programs also require substantial ongoing costs which puts pressure on districts to demonstrate ROI on technology investments.
Proving effective technology utilization rates and measuring learning outcomes is a real roadblock, but also a tremendous opportunity when it comes to protecting funding sources. For a few years, Absolute has been working with school districts to provide quantitative information on device utilization rates to help prove that technology has had a meaningful impact on student outcomes to protect funding levels. Two of our schools won Safe, Smart and Secure Students Trailblazer Awards last week.
Edtech funding

Absolute 7 Enhancements
With the new release of the Absolute platform announced just this month, we’re extending this visibility with a new device analytics widget to make reporting on device utilization easier than ever. Easily access what devices are being utilized and drill down further to identify patterns and insights on technology ROI, giving your district a leg up on competing for increasingly scarce funding sources. Learn more here.

How Good Digital Citizenship Education Defuses Cyberbullying

Bullying is a serious issue within K12 Schools across the US, a problem made worse in the digital age where social posturing and physical separation contributes to growing numbers of bullying incidents. Half of all young people today grow up experiencing some form of cyberbullying and 25% report being bullied on a regular basis. Today, 95% of teens who witness cyberbullying on social media say that they ignore the behavior which means the bad behavior is both unreported and worse, unresolved.
Relatively constant cyberbullying statistics show that current attention to the issue has done little to slow it down, let alone stop it. It is our shared responsibility to shift the focus of education toward teaching kids to be responsible digital citizens, and to engage in effective strategies to prevent, detect and respond to cyberbullying. Good digital citizens includes being aware of your actions online, appropriate etiquette and safety protocols, and how to prevent and report cyberbullying.
9 Pillars of Digital Citizenship
Schools must work with parents to look at what their students are doing on the Internet both at home and school. Together, schools and parents should work to highlight and reiterate the 9 Pillars of Digital Citizenship, which includes basic digital literacy, rights and responsibilities, as well as tips to ensure students are taught to protect themselves and others.
Digital citizenship is not a one-off presentation, but a premise embedded in the curriculum alongside technology use with ongoing dialogue between school and parents. Education on digital citizenship can begin as early as kindergarten, teaching kids about appropriate limits for device use, the importance of keeping devices in public areas of the house (ie. not locked away in bedrooms), and later incorporating more mature themes on social etiquette as students move online.
One key take-away in effective digital citizenship education is recognizing the power of the bystander. In cyberbullying situations, there are often 3 roles: bullies, victims and bystanders. Although the bully has an obvious impact on the victim, the bystander also plays a role in the impact on the victim because their lack of action, whether done in person or online, reinforces the victimization.
One of the best ways to prevent bullying or to intervene when it occurs is to involve the bystanders. When bullying behavior is not reinforced with social acceptance, there is less incentive for its repetition over time. Common Sense Education offers many more great tips for school administrators and educators including grade-differentiated lesson plans.
At Absolute, we regularly work with schools to help kick-start these digital citizenship campaigns across the community of staff, students, and parents. If you would like to learn more about how to curb cyberbullying through digial citizenship initiatives, join me at the School Safety Advocacy Council Conference on Bullying in Reno, Nevada March 7-9, 2018.

5 Steps to Securing Your School’s Mobile Devices Over the Holidays

Much to the delight of students, faculty and administrators everywhere, holiday break is almost here! But they aren’t the only ones eagerly anticipating end of semester school closings: criminals are also waiting for campus shut downs so they can help themselves to the valuable technology now commonplace in most schools, from K-12 to colleges and universities.
Before taking off for the winter break, follow these easy steps to ensure your school’s devices are safe:

Store mobile devices in locked cabinets and/or alarmed areas. It sounds obvious but you’d be surprised how many laptops, tablets, virtual reality headsets, digital cameras and other small-sized tech gadgets can be left lying around. This type of tech is in high demand and easy to swipe so make it harder for the thieves and keep everything under lock and key.
Don’t leave technology in plain sight. While a determined thief will break in regardless, you can prevent your school becoming victimized by someone who otherwise may not have considered pilfering your school’s tech. Remove from view or cover any larger equipment like desktop computers, printers, interactive whiteboards, etc.
Remind users of safe behavior. Students, faculty and staff that take mobile devices with them should be reminded (more than once) not to leave their individual or school-owned laptops or tablets in cars or other places where they can be easily spotted by crooks looking for an easy score. If someone does fall victim to theft or loses a device during the break, be sure to make available clear direction for course of action you expect. Who do they notify and how?
Track your devices. If a device does go rogue, it becomes known as a Dark Endpoint and these represent one of a school’s most vulnerable attack vectors. Uncompromised visibility into a device, whether it’s on or off the network, is key. Being able to quickly locate a lost or stolen device means you can remotely shut down unwanted network access and, if all goes well, even retrieve it.
Update device software. Cyber criminals are equally as troublesome this time of year, with holiday phishing emails putting school networks at grave risk for cyberattack. Use the holiday downtime to update device software and patch known vulnerabilities. If this sounds like an overwhelming task, consider relying on automation.

The Absolute Safe Schools program was designed to help promote safe digital citizenship, helping educate students, staff and the community about device safety, best practices and responsible behavior. Education institutions rely on the Absolute platform in part because it leverages Persistence technology, already embedded in the firmware of over a billion popular endpoint devices, to deliver always-connected visibility and control with an efficient tether to every device, on and off the network.

Quantifiable Data Demonstrates the Value of Personalized Learning for Loudoun County Public Schools

Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) is the third largest school division in the Commonwealth of Virginia with more than 78,000 students in 89 facilities. In order to support a personalized learning program, the district invested heavily in a one-to-one program for students and staff, adding thousands of devices for use in-classroom, at home, or by teachers away on conferences.
The Challenge: Demonstrate the Value of Personalized Learning
In order to secure the budget for the purchase of tens of thousands of devices, Dr. Rich Contartesi, CIO for Loudoun County Public Schools, was tasked with demonstrating to the Board the value of personalized learning. Demonstrating device utilization rates on and off the school network was required to drive consensus that teachers did need to have a laptop and take them home and that students were intensively using laptops in the classroom. The Board also needed assurances that security, privacy and theft recovery were prioritized to safeguard the investment in these devices.
Using Absolute, LCPS was able to provide quantitative information on device utilization rates right away. With security in mind, LCPS chose to purchase Dell laptops, which are protected from the factory with Absolute Persistence technology. Right away, these devices have the strongest level of security on the market, able to withstand tampering and attack and to track devices on or off school property. With Absolute, the security department at LCPS now receives automated alerts on anomalies, so they can focus on reviewing potential security issues and taking action to ensure endpoint protection and privacy.
As Loudoun County Public Schools demonstrated, K-12 schools across the country are seeing positive results for potential of technology to support individualized learning, but demonstrating these results with quantifiable data and maintaining vast fleets of devices comes with its own challenges. With funding opportunities on the decline, schools are increasingly challenged to prove that technology has had a meaningful impact on student outcomes and that device use falls within Internet Safety Guidelines.
Absolute is proud to be working with top educational institutions across the US to help provide the visibility, analytics and control needed to improve learning outcomes, protect students and ensure fiscal responsibility.
Learn more about how Absolute enables personalized learning at Loudoun County Public Schools by minimizing risk and increasing device utility.

Fostering Digital Citizenship in Education

October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month, a global campaign run annually to raise awareness about the importance of cybersecurity. We’ve asked some of our leading security experts here at Absolute to chime in on some of the most pressing issues in cybersecurity today. In Part 1 of this series,  Harold Reaves, Global Director for Safe Schools and Investigations, shares his insight on cybersecurity in our schools. His extensive law experience background was instrumental in creating Absolute’s K12 theft prevention program.
 
The classroom of today is very different from the classrooms we all grew up in. Technology is now an integral component of education, with many schools exploring one-to-one programs and BYOD programs to move beyond digital instructional content toward a new model of connected teaching and learning. The most recent data demonstrates that technology has the potential to boost student learning and test scores, improve student-led learning and engagement and foster a better relationship with students and teachers.
While the qualitative benefits of technology use in the classroom are beginning to emerge, the next step is the evolution of education around digital citizenship. Today’s children are not only growing up with more technology, they are growing up in a digital environment – roughly one third of a child’s life is now spent online. Any misstep online has the potential to have long-lasting consequences on personal reputation, safety and security.
The internet is our shared global responsibility. Raising kids to be responsible digital citizens is our shared responsibility. Right now, only 23% of teachers feel adequately prepared to teach kids the risks of cyberbullying and just 24% think they know how to teach young people about how to protect their personal information online.
Cybersecurity Advice for All Digital Citizens

Protect passwords – always use a strong password unique to every website and individual. Passwords should never be shared or written down. Many tools exist today to help you store and manage the dozens (or hundreds) of passwords that are a reality of online life today.
Protect your information – your digital identity is like money, it should be protected. Be aware of what information is being collected, by whom, and where it’s being stored.
Social etiquette – practice ’share with care’ principles before posting about yourself and others online. Consider the long-term implications around photos, shared locations, and offensive comments on social media. If you wouldn’t say it out loud, don’t post it online.
Don’t post anonymously – stay away from websites that allow anonymous postings.
Set limits for youth – set appropriate limits on appropriate device use. Keep devices in public areas of the house (not bedrooms), set limits for youth and monitor social media websites.
Student safety – device theft within schools and outside of schools is a growing problem that places many students at risk and holds the potential to create a shortfall of devices for learning, which we saw in two high profile stories just this month (here, here). School districts cannot rely on technology alone to protect students or the technology investment. Many districts are taking proactive educational measures to change user habits, deter theft, and protect students on and off school property.

When we work with Education customers, our focus is on protection, deterrence, performance and recovery. The Absolute Safe Schools program was designed to help promote safe digital citizenship, helping educate students, staff and the community about device safety, best practices and responsible behavior. Coupled with this program, our Student Technology Analytics solution provides detailed reporting into technology usage to determine academic performance and to enforce an effective Internet Safety Policy.

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