Unpacking cyber security and digital support

Issue: Volume 102, Number 6

Posted: 11 May 2023
Reference #: 1HA_nz

In this article, Education Gazette outlines the services and support on offer to schools and kura, and explores what is in the pipeline as the Ministry of Education’s Cyber Security and Digital Support programme continues to build over the next few years.

Software and technology play a vital role in the daily operations of schools and kura.

Software and technology play a vital role in the daily operations of schools and kura.

Cyber-attacks on the education sector are becoming increasingly common and more sophisticated, making it more important that the IT setups in schools and kura are secure.

Schools and kura should prioritise taking preventative cyber security actions to avoid facing the prospect of disruption to learning by being locked out of systems and devices, losing their students’ sensitive information, and financial loss.

New services for schools and kura

The Ministry of Education has established the Cyber Security and Digital Support Programme to support schools with these challenges. The programme aims to:

improve the safety and security of the digital learning environment

reduce the burden on schools and kura to manage digital systems to enable more time for schools to focus on the core activity of teaching and learning

provide equitable access to quality digital services and support to kura and schools.

SchoolDNS – available now

The online identity of a school or kura is important. While it’s never a school’s intention to let their domain name or web presence fall by the wayside, renewing Domain Name System (DNS) registration and hosting for the year is one of those annual tasks that is easy to forget.

Figuring out which staff member is responsible for the domain can be problematic, and this process can be made more complicated if that staff member no longer works at the school.

The new SchoolDNS service offers free DNS registration and hosting for schools. By centralising the registration and renewal process of domain names for busy schools and kura the Ministry aims to increase the level of security and control that schools have over their domain name(s).

For schools and kura who opt in, this service will reduce instances where DNS registrations expire or are exposed to malicious activity.

Schools retain ownership and control of their domain name through access to the DNS portal. Through this portal schools can easily make account changes such as updating key admin staff and contact details.

The SchoolDNS service offers schools and kura the following:

  • Set up and running costs for up to two domain names, including any number of subdomains
  • Yearly registration renewal as a default. This ensures continuity of the domain and reduces the risk of losing access to the domain temporarily or permanently
  • A higher level of reliability and security that meets New Zealand government requirements
  • Two-factor authentication on login to the portal to protect against unwanted access
  • Ability to delegate a separate login to IT provider to make changes on your behalf
  • 24/7 support based in New Zealand
  • Reduced administration risks – the centralised service offers continuity for domains that won’t be affected by staff turnover at schools and kura.

The service is provided by Liverton Security, who register domains for New Zealand government agencies, including govt.nz, health.nz and parliament.nz domains.

Keeping ākonga safe online is key to the Ministry’s Cyber Security and Digital Support programme.

Keeping ākonga safe online is key to the Ministry’s Cyber Security and Digital Support programme.

Safer Technologies for Schools – in development

Software and technology play a vital role in the daily operations of schools and kura, as well as improving education outcomes for students. But when selecting software products, it can be hard to know if they come with any security and privacy risks.

The Ministry of Education has joined an initiative called Safer Technologies for Schools (ST4S) to help take some of the guesswork out of choosing technology for schools and kura.

ST4S reports and badges

ST4S provides a catalogue of reports on commonly used school software, which have been assessed against a set of security and privacy standards. The confidential reports identify any risks and advise on how these might be mitigated.

Based on the information in the reports, schools and kura can consider any privacy or security risks and make an informed decision on software choices.

In addition, software products that are assessed as low or medium risk are eligible for an ST4S badge. Suppliers can display their badge to easily identify and promote that the product has been assessed and meets ST4S minimum standards.

When considering ST4S badged products, it’s important to take note of the “recognised countries” shown on the ST4S website.

Many existing ST4S reports pre-date New Zealand participation in the scheme. As such, while they provide a good indication of the privacy and security protections for specific products, they may not fully reflect New Zealand-specific requirements. The Ministry is working with ST4S and suppliers to address this and the ST4S website will be updated as the work progresses.

ST4S reports are available to state and state-integrated schools by contacting the Ministry at digital.services@education.govt.nz. Access for private schools can also be arranged.

Self-service access to reports is in development and expected to be available in 2023.

Help to identify software products for assessment

The Ministry is seeking help from schools and kura to identify common software products and technology they use – that does not have an ST4S badge. The Ministry is working with EdTech suppliers to participate in the ST4S assessment process but needs help to identify and prioritise products.

Schools and kura can contact the Ministry team at digital.services@education.govt.nz.

Self-assessment tool – in development

The self-assessment tool provides a platform for schools and kura to answer a set of survey questions related to their school’s IT set up.

It covers categories such as IT security, online safety and privacy. It will help schools and kura discover which areas it is strong in and identify improvements.

Based on the answers provided, schools and kura will receive a tailored action plan outlining the key steps that they can take for the highest immediate impact to improve their school’s digital security profile.

The recommendations provided will be based on international standards and best-practice, applied to a
New Zealand schooling context.

This tool is currently in development and is being piloted with a number of schools across Aotearoa.

 digital services

The Digital Download

Get the latest updates on digital initiatives, digital security, new services, tips and advice straight into your inbox each month(external link).

The Ministry of Education’s monthly newsletter is for IT leads and people responsible for IT. 

Further information

School DNS(external link)

Safer Technologies for Schools (ST4S)(external link)

List of products with an ST4S badge(external link)

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 10:43 am, 11 May 2023

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