New Hampshire cybersecurity and education experts told Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., this week that more resources are needed in order to protect K-12 schools from cyberattacks.

Sen. Hassan held a field panel of the U.S. Senate Emerging Threats and Spending Oversight Subcommittee on Aug. 21 at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College to discuss innovative and collaborative K-12 cybersecurity efforts, as well as how to address remaining cyber challenges.

“Criminals and criminal organizations continue to target our K-12 schools with disruptive cyberattacks,” Sen. Hassan said. “These attacks disrupt student learning and can take schools months to recover from. And these attacks aren’t just disruptive, they’re also costly. Restoring computers and networks after a cyberattack often costs the school and community over a million dollars.”

Richard Rossi, the first-ever cybersecurity advisor for New Hampshire within the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), also pointed to the high costs of cyberattacks and the lack of K-12 funding.

“The lack of funding and investment in K-12 cybersecurity continues to work against school districts’ ability to plan for, prepare against, and mitigate the effects of cyberattacks,” Rossi said.

He noted that in its 2023 annual report, the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) found that 66 percent of K-12 school districts nationwide lacked a full-time cybersecurity position. It also found that just nine percent of districts spend more than one-tenth of their IT budget on cybersecurity defense, while 48 percent of districts dedicated less than two percent of their IT budget to security.

Notably, 12 percent of K-12 school districts did not dedicate any of their budget to cybersecurity.

“The scale and scope of the cybersecurity threat environment is such that no one individual or agency is equipped to address the issues on their own,” Rossi said.

Pamela McLeod, chair of the Alton School Board, added that more funding would go a long way in K-12 schools. One solution, she said, could be funding cybersecurity through the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) E-Rate program, which provides high-speed internet to schools and libraries.

“We don’t need more documents and more instructions. What we need are resources. And time and money, of course, are always the issue in schools,” McLeod said.

“I’d love to see E-Rate just focus much more on cybersecurity – actually it doesn’t now – build that focus on cybersecurity, cover MDR [Managed Detection and Response] and SOC [Security Operations Center] services, especially cover other software pieces that can help secure the district,” she added.

The panel discussion came after the White House earlier this month announced several government actions to help K-12 schools bolster their cyber defenses, along with numerous commitments from private-sector organizations that aim for the same result.

One of those actions is something that Sen. Hassan pushed for, which is the creation of a government coordinating council to focus on K-12 cybersecurity.

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Grace Dille
Grace Dille
Grace Dille is MeriTalk SLG's Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.