Democrats introduce bill providing $400 million to protect schools from cyberattacks

Reps. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) and Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) on Friday introduced legislation designed to funnel federal dollars and other resources to K-12 schools to defend against cyberattacks.

The Enhancing K-12 Cybersecurity Act would establish a $400 million “K-12 Cybersecurity Human Capacity” grant program at the National Science Foundation to help expand the cyber workforce and improve infrastructure in order to better protect educational institutions against attacks.

The bill would also establish a “cybersecurity registry” at the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) to track cyberattacks on K-12 institutions, along with establishing a separate “cybersecurity clearinghouse” at CISA to provide best practices and guidance to educational institutions on how to defend against cyber targeting.

Cyberattacks on K-12 schools have become an increasing concern over the past year and spiked when classes moved online during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic continues to necessitate virtual platforms for learning, and we must do everything in our power to secure the networks and infrastructure our students rely on,” Matsui, who serves as vice chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s subcommittee on Communications and Technology, said in a statement. “As children and their families adjust to a new learning environment, this bill will help ensure that we are protecting students from cyber threats that have been on the rise.”

Langevin, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee on Intelligence and Emerging Threat and Capabilities, said in a separate statement that the bill will “help promote cybersecurity, protect student privacy and prevent interruptions to distance learning.”

“With millions of students and families relying on online connectivity for remote learning during this public health crisis, we must ensure cybersecurity is a top priority and that the networks schools are using are safe and secure,” he added. 

The bill was introduced the day after the Government Accountability Office, a federal watchdog agency, made public a report concluding that escalating cyberattacks on schools were posing potential harm to students.

School districts have seen classed interrupted by various forms of cyberattacks both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, with classes most recently disrupted by cyberattacks on the Fairfax County, Va., school district and on Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

The phenomenon of “Zoom bombing” has become an increasing problem for virtual classes, with many classes help on video conferencing platform Zoom interrupted by individuals spreading inappropriate messages, including racist comments and pornography.  

The legislation introduced by Matsui and Langevin is not the first bill floated to address cybersecurity vulnerabilities at schools.

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee ranking member Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) in December introduced a bill to promote the creation of cybersecurity resources for schools. The bill has so far not advanced.

Tags cyberattacks Doris Matsui Gary Peters Jim Langevin K-12 education

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