Cybersec Essentials

Implementing the CIS Framework: Step-by-step Guide for K-12 Schools

Implement CIS Controls in K-12 schools to strengthen cybersecurity, safeguard student information, and be the hero your school needs.

May 10, 2024

As we mentioned in our previous post, the CIS Controls are perfectly suited for K-12 school environments. They clearly outline how to enhance your cybersecurity posture, be ready to fight cyber threats, and protect important school data.

In this post, we will dive deeper into implementing the CIS Controls framework and explore some practical steps.

Why Choose CIS Controls for K-12 Schools?

The CIS Controls framework is a set of best technical practices for bolstering security; these controls provide a roadmap for IT managers to enhance the security posture of their educational environments effectively.

K-12 schools often face unique challenges. Limited budgets, resource constraints, rigorous compliance, and varying levels of IT expertise among staff members can pose significant hurdles to implementing robust security measures, not to mention that K-12 schools possess valuable information, from academic records and attendance information to sensitive personal data, that must be protected.

In this context, the CIS Controls framework offers a structured approach to cybersecurity that is both practical and adaptable to the specific needs and constraints of K-12 educational institutions.

  • Selecting Relevant CIS Controls
  • The next crucial step for K-12 IT managers is to identify and select the controls most applicable to their specific environment and security needs.
  • While all 18 CIS Controls are valuable, not every control may be equally relevant or feasible for implementation within a K-12 school setting.
  • When choosing CIS Controls for K-12 schools, several factors should be taken into consideration:
    • ~~Risk Assessment: Identify the threats facing your information systems, endpoints, networks, and data, and assess the potential consequences you’d face should these adverse events occur.~~
    • ~~Relevance to Educational Environment: Certain CIS Controls, such as those related to data protection, access control, and student privacy, may be particularly important in an educational setting.~~
    • ~~Resource Availability: Prioritize controls that can be effectively implemented within the constraints of the school's resources. This may involve starting with foundational controls that require minimal investment and gradually scaling up more advanced controls.~~
    • ~~Legal and Regulatory Compliance: Take into account any legal and regulatory requirements that apply to K-12 schools, such as FERPA and CIPA in the United States.~~

Key Steps in Implementing the CIS Control Framework

The next crucial step for K-12 IT managers is to identify and select the controls most applicable to their specific environment and security needs. While all 18 CIS Controls are valuable, not every control may be equally relevant or possible to use in a K-12 school setting. That's why it's necessary to take several steps to consider before embarking on this journey:

Step 1: Assess the current security state

This phase involves evaluating the institution's current security posture, identifying vulnerabilities, and determining which controls are most critical for mitigating risks and achieving security objectives.

This assessment should encompass all aspects of the IT environment, including network infrastructure, endpoints, data, and user access controls. Key areas to evaluate include:

  • Asset Inventory: Identify all devices, software applications, and data repositories within the IT environment. A thorough understanding of the school's assets is essential for effective security management.
  • Vulnerability Assessment: Conduct a vulnerability scan to identify weaknesses in the IT infrastructure.
  • Risk Analysis: Evaluate the potential impact of security threats on the institution's operations and data integrity. Consider factors such as the likelihood of occurrence, the severity of impact, and the effectiveness of existing security controls.

Step 2: Prioritize Controls Based on the Specific Needs

Once the current security posture has been assessed, the next is to identify and prioritize CIS Controls based on the institution's specific needs and risk profile. While all 18 controls outlined in the CIS Control Framework are essential for comprehensive cybersecurity, not all controls may be equally applicable or feasible for every K-12 environment.

Consider the following factors when prioritizing controls:

  • Risk Assessment Findings: Focus on addressing the most critical security risks identified during the assessment phase. Prioritize controls that directly mitigate these risks and enhance the institution's overall security posture.
  • Regulatory Compliance Requirements: Identify controls necessary for compliance with relevant regulations and standards, such as COPPA, FERPA, CIPA, and state data privacy laws. Ensure that controls addressing regulatory requirements are prioritized appropriately in the deployment plan.
  • Operational Considerations: Consider the operational bandwidth for implementing each control on educational activities and administrative processes. Prioritize controls that minimize teaching and learning disruption while effectively mitigating security risks.

Step 3: Plan & Prepare

After the assessment and CIS control prioritization, the next step is to detail an implementation plan.

Strategic Implementation Planning

This phase involves developing a comprehensive strategy for deploying selected controls, outlining the timeline, resource allocation, and responsibilities necessary for successful implementation, that’s why IT managers need to:

  • Establish Clear Objectives: Define clear, measurable objectives for deploying the CIS Control Framework. These objectives should align with the institution's overall security goals and risk management priorities.
  • Create a Deployment Roadmap: Develop a detailed deployment roadmap that outlines the sequence of activities, milestones, and timelines for implementing each control. Break down the implementation process into manageable phases to facilitate monitoring and progress tracking.
  • Allocate Resources: Identify the resources required to implement selected controls, including personnel, budget, and technology solutions.
  • Assign Responsibilities: Clearly define roles and responsibilities for key stakeholders involved in the deployment process, including IT staff, administrators, educators, and external vendors.

Policy and Procedure Development

Policies and procedures provide guidance on how security measures should be implemented, maintained, and enforced to protect sensitive information and mitigate cyber threats.

  • Policy Framework: Develop policies that address key areas such as data protection, incident response, stakeholder communications, and acceptable use of technology resources.
  • Procedure Documentation: Specify step-by-step instructions, roles and responsibilities, and required resources for implementing security measures effectively.

Step 4: Implementation

The CIS Implementation Groups (IGs) are part of the CIS Controls framework, which helps organizations of different sizes and resource levels implement essential cybersecurity practices efficiently. These groups categorize the CIS Controls into different sets tailored to the organizations' resource availability and cybersecurity expertise.

There are three Implementation Groups (IG1, IG2, and IG3), each addressing the specific needs and capabilities of organizations or institutions at different scales and with different risk exposures. Each IG builds upon the previous one, adding layers of security controls that require more resources and expertise

Implementation Group 1 (Self-assessed):

Foundational Cyber Hygiene:

It is recommended that all organizations, regardless of size or industry, implement the controls listed under IG1. This group focuses on essential cybersecurity measures that provide foundational protection against the most prevalent cyber threats.

Target Audience: IG1 is suitable for organizations with limited resources and basic cybersecurity capabilities or those just starting their cybersecurity journey.

Key Characteristics: Controls in IG1 are typically low-cost or no-cost, easy to implement, and provide immediate security benefits. They address common attack vectors and vulnerabilities, such as basic network hygiene, user awareness training, and inventory management.

Implementation Group 2 (Based on risk profile):

Intermediate Cyber Hygiene: IG2 builds upon the foundational controls of IG1 and focuses on implementing additional security measures to enhance cyber resilience and mitigate advanced threats.

Target Audience: IG2 is suitable for organizations that have established basic cybersecurity practices and are ready to expand their capabilities to address more sophisticated threats.

Key Characteristics: Controls in IG2 are more comprehensive and may require moderate investments in resources, technology, or expertise. They address advanced threats, such as continuous monitoring, secure configuration management, and incident response planning.

Implementation Group 3 (Available resources):

Advanced Cyber Hygiene: IG3 represents the highest level of cybersecurity maturity and focuses on implementing advanced security measures to achieve optimal cyber resilience and protection against sophisticated threats.

Target Audience: IG3 is suitable for organizations with mature cybersecurity programs and the resources and expertise to implement advanced security controls effectively.

Key Characteristics: IG3 controls are comprehensive, proactive, and adaptive. They may require significant investments in resources, technology, or expertise but offer the highest level of protection against advanced and persistent cyber threats. Examples include threat intelligence sharing, security automation, and continuous security validation.

Step 4: Training and Awareness

Educating staff and students about cybersecurity best practices and potential threats plays a crucial role in building a security-aware culture and reducing the risk of security incidents.

  • Security Awareness Training: Provide comprehensive security awareness training to all staff members, including teachers, administrators, and support staff.
  • Role-Specific Training: Tailor training programs to staff members' specific roles and responsibilities. For example, IT staff may require additional training on incident response procedures, while administrative staff may need training on data handling and privacy regulations.
  • Regular Updates and Refresher Courses: Cyber threats are constantly evolving, so it's essential to provide regular updates and refresher courses to ensure staff members have the latest knowledge and skills to protect against emerging threats.
  • Simulated Phishing Exercises: Conduct simulated phishing exercises to test staff members' ability to recognize and respond to phishing emails.
  • Student Interactive Workshops and Activities: Organize interactive workshops and activities to engage students in cybersecurity learning.
  • Parental Involvement and Education: Educate parents about the importance of cybersecurity and provide resources to help them support their children in practicing safe online behavior at home.
  • Student-Led Initiatives: Empower students to take an active role in promoting cybersecurity awareness among their peers. Student-led initiatives, such as cybersecurity clubs or peer mentoring programs, can create a supportive environment for learning.

Step 5: Monitor, Review, and Update

This step involves ongoing assessment of security controls, monitoring for emerging threats, and regular updates to policies, procedures, and technologies to address evolving cybersecurity risks.

Continuous Monitoring

Security Event Monitoring: Implement continuous monitoring systems to detect and analyze security events within the IT environment. Security event monitoring tools can help identify suspicious activities, unauthorized access attempts, and potential security incidents in real time.

Vulnerability Management: Monitor for new vulnerabilities and security advisories affecting software and hardware components and prioritize remediation efforts based on risk severity.

User Activity Monitoring: User activity monitoring tools can help identify unauthorized access attempts, data exfiltration, and other security incidents involving user accounts.

Review and Update

Regular Security Assessments: Conduct periodic security assessments and reviews to evaluate the effectiveness of implemented controls and identify areas for improvement.

Incident Response Exercises: Conduct regular incident response exercises and tabletop simulations to test the organization's response capabilities and identify gaps in incident detection, response, and recovery procedures.

Policy and Procedure Updates: Review and update security policies and procedures regularly to address emerging threats, regulatory changes, and lessons learned from security incidents.

Technology Updates and Upgrades: Regularly update security software, firmware, and hardware components to address known vulnerabilities and maintain compatibility with the latest security standards.

Conclusion

With the proliferation of online learning platforms, digital educational resources, and the increasing reliance on technology in the classroom, safeguarding student data and protecting school IT infrastructure have never been more important. Implementing the CIS Control framework offers a proven pathway for cybersecurity K-12 managers to fortify their defenses effectively.

Schools can enhance their resilience against a wide range of cyber threats by systematically prioritizing and implementing relevant controls, from data breaches to ransomware attacks.

Throughout this journey, IT managers must remain vigilant, adapting to evolving threats and staying abreast of emerging best practices.

Regular security assessments, ongoing training and awareness initiatives, and a commitment to continuous improvement are essential components of a robust cybersecurity strategy.

By safeguarding student data privacy, ensuring the uninterrupted delivery of educational services, and fostering a culture of cybersecurity awareness, schools can create a safe and secure digital learning environment conducive to student success and academic excellence.

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