On Oct. 8, President Joe Biden signed into law S.1917, the K-12 Cybersecurity Act of 2021. The bipartisan legislation—authored by U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-MI, Chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee—aims to enhance cybersecurity assistance to K-12 educational institutions across the country.
“The global pandemic has impacted an entire generation of students and educators and underscores the importance of safeguarding their sensitive information, as well as for all Americans,” said Biden. “This law is an important step forward to meeting the continuing threat posed by criminals, malicious actors, and adversaries in cyberspace. My Administration is marshalling a whole-of-nation effort to confront cyber threats.”
Specifically, the new law directs the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) to work with teachers, school administrators, other federal departments, and private-sector organizations to complete a study of cybersecurity risks specific to K-12 educational institutions, including risks related to securing sensitive student and employee records and challenges related to remote learning.
Following the completion of that study, the law directs CISA to develop cybersecurity recommendations and an online toolkit to help schools improve their cybersecurity hygiene. These voluntary tools would be made available on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) website along with other DHS school safety information.
According to Peters, cyberattacks on schools increased over the past year as Americans’ daily lives and classrooms moved online during the pandemic, including attacks against schools in the senator’s home state of Michigan. In one attack on Walled Lake Consolidated Schools, for example, hackers successfully accessed records and posted information online. In 2018, Johannesburg-Lewiston Area Schools in Michigan were targeted by a malicious ransomware attack that temporarily shut down the district’s systems. In Florida, hackers successfully stole thousands of files from Broward County’s School District systems earlier this year.
“As malicious cybercriminals continue to target the network of K-12 schools across the nation—the federal government needs to provide them with the resources needed to protect themselves from hackers,” said Peters. “I’m grateful to President Biden for signing this important, bipartisan bill into law.”