For years, schools have been fighting an uphill battle when it comes to cybersecurity. The COVID-19 pandemic has only made it worse as they become key targets for hackers as millions of teachers and students have turned to video chat software and other online tools for remote learning.
IBM is awarding grants totalling $3 million in value to help six public school districts in the United States prepare for and respond to cyberattacks. The grants are for U.S. public schools only.
“Unfortunately at this time the program is only in the U.S. We do have other programs in play in Canada, but not this specific one,” Lorraine Baldwin, external communications leader for IBM Canada, told IT World Canada in an email.
One of those initiatives, for example, took off in 2019. The University of Ottawa opened a hub for research in cybersecurity and cyber safety with IBM Canada as its first industry partners.
IBM says there are a total of six grants of in-kind services, valued at $500,000 each. They will be awarded this year to school districts that apply for the grant via IBM.org. School districts can apply between February 4 and March 1, 2021, and recipients will be announced shortly after. School districts will be selected to receive the grant based on their level of cybersecurity needs and how they meet the criteria outlined by IBM, the company noted in a recent news release.
The grant, created as part of IBM’s corporate social responsibility initiatives, will be an in-kind contribution in the form of resources and hours performed by IBM’s Service Corps teams of 6-10 people per district. After an initial evaluation, the volunteers will help each school district in areas that appear to be the weakest from a cybersecurity standpoint. That assistance may come in the form of updating systems, implementing strategic communications plans, identifying local resources and escalation paths, clarifying legal options, mapping out basic training for staff, students and parents, developing incident response plans and more.
Volunteers will also provide services including developing incident response plans, providing basic cybersecurity training such as password hygiene and implementing strategic communication plans to use in response to a cyber incident.
The IBM funding comes after a December joint alert from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, and the Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center warning that nearly 60 per cent of reported ransomware incidents between August and September 2020 involved K-12 schools, a 29 per cent jump from the months prior.