Your Voice: CyberEDU—Education Cybersecurity Emerges as a Major Issue

June 23, 2017 | Volume 48, Number 13

Editor’s note: From time to time, Educational Marketer is providing a platform for outside commentary on issues relevant to the PreK-12 and higher education markets in a space called Your Voice. If interested, please contact Kathy Mickey, managing editor at kmickey@simbainformation.com.

By Josef Blumenfeld—Earlier this month, the Israel EdTech Summit surfaced an issue that the education industry has been slow to address: cybersecurity. 

Thirty years ago, Israel identified cybersecurity as a strategic threat. Over the following three decades, Israel and its companies developed cybersecurity expertise that today is recognized as among the best in the world. 

In many areas of our digital lives—in financial services, healthcare, banking, etc.—safety and security were the first consideration. Each of those sectors invests in top-of-the-line digital security in order to protect their infrastructure and their users’ data. In education, security—or cyberEDU as it’s being called—seems like an afterthought. 

Education cybersecurity has been part of discussions at industry events for several years, but the Israel EdTech Summit elevated cyberEDU to a new level, with industry expert Roni Zahavi, CEO of global leader CyberSpark, sounding the alarm on inadequate security measures across the education landscape. 

A recent KMPG survey of 400 American CEOs identified cybersecurity as a major disruptive threat and an area of corporate investment and hiring. If we surveyed 400 superintendents, or 400 community college heads, would cyberEDU be seen with equal urgency? 

Today’s education digital backbone is a patchwork of policies, systems, hardware, and this puts student data and privacy at risk. This patchwork is highlighted with eight federal agencies having cybersecurity initiatives in education, mostly around future skills development. 

Tech vs. Tradition

Attention to cyber security is a distinct competitive advantage that tech giants like Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft, who have been making significant moves in education, have over the traditional education publishers, Pearson, McGraw-Hill, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Scholastic.

In fact, it’s easy to see cyberEDU as a competitive disadvantage for education’s traditional vendors. Legacy publishers, spurred by private equity owners and watching their multi-billion dollar textbook businesses all but evaporate, have rushed to embrace “digital” in an effort to arrest their revenue declines (while trying to rebrand themselves in the process). Issues of security, privacy, and data protection, were rarely part of early business strategies. The impact of security-as-an-afterthought is reverberating across education.

In May, EdSurge’s Jenny Abamu published the story “Massive Data Breaches, Billions in Wasted Funds,” which asked the question: “Who is holding edtech vendors accountable?” Abamu recounted data breaches for 77 million Edmodo users, Schoolzilla’s inadvertent exposure of data for 1 million students, and the FAFSA data theft in April that affected 100,000 financial aid applicants. 

Parents, educators and lawmakers are all pushing for enhanced security measures. The pressure will continue to rise as users demand cyber protection in education that is on par with other areas of their digital lives.

Ask yourself: Which companies are better positioned to meet increasing cyberEDU demands: Google, Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft? Or century-old education publishers like HMH, Pearson and McGraw-Hill? 

To protect their revenue turf, the education companies will need to acquire much of the innovation and expertise demanded by cyberEDU. Here, Israel has an advantage. Would you rather trust your children’s data to Russian, Chinese, or Indian technology—or Israeli? 

CyberEDU is a blind spot for the traditional education companies, and a strategic advantage for the technology companies pursuing education’s billion-dollar budgets. As this issue continues to seep into public awareness, the technology companies would be wise to push their inherent cyberEDU advantages… which would add increased pressure on the traditional education companies. ■

Josef Blumenfeld (@JosefBlumenfeld) is the founder of EdTech180, a specialized PR and communications consultancy with expertise serving the EdTech industry. EdTech180 has a global client mix, representing companies in the US, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. For more information, please see www.EdTech180.com or follow @EdTech180 on Twitter.

We welcome your views. To submit a letter to the editor, send us an email to press@simbainformation.com.