Sens. Warner and Collins Urge School Systems to Bolster Cyber Defenses

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Thursday, June 17, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, urged the Biden Administration to make sure that school systems across the nation have appropriate defenses in the wake of a growing number of cyberattacks that have target the nation’s K-12 schools.

The senators requested that the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) to issue guidance which would affirm that school districts have the authority to use federal COVID-19 relief funding  from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) and the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEER) to pay for the needed cybersecurity resources. Both of these funds were authorized by the CARES Act and supported by both Sens. Warner and Collins.

“Experts agree that the increased reliance on online learning programs is likely to far outlast the pandemic. While online learning offers an abundance of positive opportunities for educators and students, without proper cybersecurity defenses, our nation’s education systems face formidable risks,” wrote the Senators in a joint letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “School systems must have strong cybersecurity resources available to protect themselves against cyber and ransom attacks. With increasingly persistent attacks on our schools, they simply cannot wait until they are a target to take action.”

In the same letter, the senators used last year’s cybersecurity breach of Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) in which private information was stolen and then published online. FCPS is the 11th largest school district in the United States.

Also cited was a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which found that since 2016, an excess of 17,000 public school districts with approximately 98,000 schools experienced breaches in cybersecurity which resulted in the disclosure of private information.

Sens. Warner and Collins noted that they had heard from school district leaders across the nation who felt unsure as to whether or not they were able use relief funding to implement measures for better cybersecurity. The senators went on to request that the DOE publish and publicize guidance that clearly states that funds can be used to improve school systems’ cybersecurity. They also urged the department to provide recommended cybersecurity benchmarks and guidance on suggested priorities regarding the high number of cyber threats that face school systems.

To read the full text of the letter, click here.

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