Senators introduce legislation to protect schools against cyberattacks

Sens. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Rick Scott (R-Fla.) on Monday introduced legislation intended to protect K-12 schools from cyberattacks, after a year in which schools have been increasingly targeted in cyberspace.

The K-12 Cybersecurity Act would require the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to create a list of cybersecurity recommendations and resources for schools to use when increasing their cyber protections and would require DHS to examine the overall cyber risks schools face. 

Peters, who serves as the top Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said in a statement that the bill would help schools “protect themselves from hackers looking to take advantage of our nation’s cybersecurity vulnerabilities.”

“Schools across the country are entrusted with safeguarding the personal data of their students and faculty, but lack many of [the] resources and information needed to adequately defend themselves against sophisticated cyber-attacks,” Peters added.

Scott, who is a member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, emphasized in a separate statement that “the safety of our schools is always my top priority, and that includes protecting the information of our students and teachers. I’m proud to sponsor the K-12 Cybersecurity Act of 2019 to further protect our schools, students and educators, and give them the resources they need to stay safe.”

Groups including the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Association of Secondary School Principals and the Consortium for School Networking all expressed support for the bill on Monday. 

The bill was introduced following a year in which cyberattacks on schools across the nation have ramped up, particularly attacks involving ransomware. In those incidents, the attacker encrypts a system and demands a ransom in order to unlock it. 

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) declared a statewide emergency after multiple school districts were the victims of ransomware attacks in July, and every school in the Flagstaff, Ariz., school district was forced to close for two days in August due to a debilitating ransomware attack. 

The new bill is similar to a bipartisan bill introduced in the House in August. The State and Local Government Cybersecurity Improvement Act, sponsored primarily by Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.), would require DHS to create a “resource guide” to help state and local government officials respond to and prepare for a cyberattack. The bill has not yet seen action in the House. 

Tags Gary Peters John Katko

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