- Sponsorship -

Protecting cyber security in schools: ‘This is kind of scary’

Glen Finkel smiled as he stood in front of 75 superintendents, business managers, and technology directors and system administrators.

“One of the reasons we picked October 31st for this event,” the Kent ISD Director of Information Technology said, “is this is kind of scary.”

Those in attendance – primarily from Kent ISD plus a few from Ionia, Montcalm and Muskegon counties – chuckled appreciatively, if not a little nervously.

They’d just heard from presenters at Kent ISD on the ways school districts are vulnerable to cyber attacks, including ransomware.

Scary, indeed.

But, said Finkel, one of the purposes of the workshop was to make things a little less frightening for district leaders, including IT professionals.

“Due to the dramatic increase of ransomware attacks on schools across the state, we wanted to give our school districts an opportunity to hear from industry experts on how to prepare for and respond to this type of cyber attack,” he noted. 

“Since effective cybersecurity involves many departments within an organization, we set up this learning opportunity to cover the many perspectives and diverse backgrounds of our audience,” Finkel explained.   

Russell Hoorn II, director of technology for Kelloggsville Public Schools, and Terri Ricketson, director of business services, participated in the workshop

‘Why Would Anyone Want to Attack a School’

For Russell Hoorn II, director of technology for Kelloggsville Public Schools, the event provided some good reminders on how life has changed for schools in the two decades he’s worked in K-12 at his alma mater, Kenowa Hills, and the last 15 at Kelloggsville. 

“The focus (of cybersecurity) used to be making sure students couldn’t change their grades,” Hoorn said during a break between sessions. He said the workshop underscored how important it is to be vigilant going forward.

“I used to think ‘why would anyone want to attack a school?’ That’s not the case anymore.”

Session speakers made it clear “just why.” Alex Brown with Plante Moran gave the day’s opening talk and his message to attendees was plain.

“What you guys hold,” he said, “is the ‘creme de la creme,’ which is records.”

Brown said that on the dark web – what he referred to as “the Walmart of bad things” – a fully loaded record can be purchased for around $3. Schools, he noted, have lots of fully loaded records, typically where name, address and social security number are all together. 

In addition, he said, child records are a prime target for hackers because they are a blank slate – without a lot of history attached to them compared to a data record for an adult. 

“That blank slate,” he said, “is a great resource for a lot of bad things.”

In fact, in a 2017 story by DataBreaches.net on children’s records being hacked from pediatricians, it was estimated that the fully loaded patient records of 500,000 children are available on the dark web. DataBreaches estimated another 200,000 records were stolen from elementary schools.

I haven’t had specific training like this,” Hoorn said, “so this is great. “I am interested in the security of our school district. I think we do a pretty good job, but I want to make sure we are following best practices. We don’t want to be a school district in the news because we had to recover something we should have been protecting.”


500 schools hit by ransomware in 2019

Lansing hit by ransomware attack

Ransomware attacks in Northern Michigan

A room full of Kent ISD employees at the start of a cyber security event on ransomware
- Sponsorship -
Phil de Haan
Phil de Haan
Phil de Haan hails from Exeter, Ontario, but has called Grand Rapids home since 1985. He is the son of a longtime public school teacher who taught both English and machine shop! Phil took both classes at South Huron District High School, but English stuck, and at Calvin College, where he met his wife, Sue, he majored in English and minored in journalism. His background includes both freelance writing and public relations work, including teaching an advertising and PR course at the college level. In the summer of 2019, he began his own freelance writing and communications business. In his spare time, Phil plays pick-up hockey and pickleball and tries to keep tabs on his two adult children. Read Phil's full bio or email Phil.


The changing of guard – as long-time educator and AD welcomes a new one

Godwin Heights Football Coach Brandon Kimble will take over as the district’s athletic director when Robert Hisey, dean of students and athletic director, officially retires Nov. 2...

Whole-child advocates ready to lead, collaborate

SNN gets to know these new elementary principals in this edition of Meet the Principal...

Amid uncertainty, new protocols, there’s laughter, new connections

Junior Olivia Austin reflects on the first day of a very unique school year...

District welcomes new administrators, ready to ‘lead through uncharted waters’

New administrators share their thoughts on starting their posts during a pandemic...


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Related Articles

Teacher and coach applies lessons in classroom and on field

New Kelloggsville head football coach Brandon Branch also teaches science and math at the high school and looks to bring academics and athletics together whenever he can...

Charts indicate when students should go to school, stay home

The Kent County Health Department has created flow charts for students and staff to reference if they have symptoms that are concerning for COVID-19...

‘We are here to help’

The tri-colored posters along the walls of the Kent Career Tech Center offer a simple reminder to students who walk the facility’s halls: 'We are here to help'...
- Sponsorship -


Engagement: The Most Important Measure of Student Success

Polls find that students’ engagement in their school work declines as they ascend the grades. Tests that don’t relate to their real-life experiences exacerbate the problem...


Food ‘angels’ support hungry kids through pandemic

They work all across Kent County, guardian angels with peanut butter on their hands and crumbs on their shirtsleeves...
- Sponsorship -


Maranda Where You LiveWGVU