What does “security” mean in the context of a school? Until recently, the first things that came to mind were probably physical security technologies like surveillance cameras, metal detectors, access control stations, and even just good old fashioned locks.
But the recent COVID-19 crisis has changed that: because of the nationwide shift toward remote learning that the pandemic has prompted, schools have been forced to reevaluate their cybersecurity policies and requirements as they work to keep their data safe amid increased reliance on videoconferencing, learning management portals, and other online educational tools.
Distance Learning Tools in the Spotlight
One of the first security concerns to gain public attention was the vulnerability of the web’s most popular videoconferencing tools. Zoom, in particular, gained notoriety for the problem of “Zoom Bombing,” where random individuals would be able to drop into meetings run by others without being invited.
With much of the population working from home and relying on remote web conferencing tools, Zoom saw a massive spike in daily users, 10 million in December 2019 to 200 million in March 2020—a dramatic increase that put the previously small problem of Zoom Bombing into the public eye.
Zoom has, fortunately, implemented additional security controls specifically designed to combat Zoom Bombing, but these controls are optional and must be selected by the user. This underscores the need for effective training.
It isn’t fair to pick on Zoom, of course—in fact, Zoom’s problems highlight one of the biggest struggles facing both schools and businesses specializing in remote learning tools. Such a massive spike in remote users over a short period of time means that IT departments lacked the time to evaluate the security controls for remote learning products, and the makers of those products may not have had time to refine those controls for such heavy use.
Learning management systems (LMS) are a great example of this. Used to store grades and enable students to remotely turn in homework, LMS have long been a convenient tool for schools; however, they have generally had the benefit of operating within the safety of the school’s network. And although a bored student might occasionally attempt to hack their grades, LMS platforms have generally not been in the crosshairs for cyberattackers.
Providing a safe and secure environment for children to learn and grow is naturally a high priority for schools. Today’s schools face the challenge of not just physically securing the premises, but building an environment that fosters a culture of learning and acceptance while balancing the expectations of a diverse set of stakeholders—including parents, faculty, staff, and the students themselves.
Fortunately, the integrated approach to security exemplified by today’s technology has put schools in a better position than ever to improve not just physical security, but day-to-day operations and emergency preparedness.
An Integrated Approach Can Improve More Than Security
“Physical Security”—when it comes to schools—used to mean locks on the doors. Over time, it has taken on new meaning, with many schools adding security cameras and others placing a resource officer on duty. Schools that wanted to put an increased emphasis on security didn’t have many tools available to them, and those that were available—such as metal detectors—were generally burdensome and imprecise.
Today’s security solutions are considerably more advanced. Surveillance cameras alone have undergone something of a digital revolution. In the past, even schools with considerable camera deployments could rarely afford the personnel necessary to effectively monitor those camera feeds—after all, even the most responsible and observant individual can’t possibly be expected to notice everything that happens across a dozen monitors.
Surveillance cameras were generally used to record incidents to be reviewed after the fact. Contrast that with today’s IP cameras, which can be equipped with advanced analytics tools capable of detecting security events as they happen and raising the necessary alerts as quickly as possible.
In fact, even using the word “camera” sells today’s surveillance technology short. In many ways, today’s cameras are the ultimate sensor, and can be equipped with applications that record far more than just the visual spectrum. Thermal cameras are monitoring the heat spectrum.
Radar detectors are identifying movement where none should occur. Audio monitoring can detect glass breakages or aggressive voices. And each of these can be integrated with a broader security system capable of generating real-time alerts to the relevant internal or external authorities.
Schools will also be looking beyond the camera in 2020, particularly as integrated solutions become increasingly capable of supporting other types of related initiatives. Adoption of access control technology will continue to grow as schools leverage this technology to secure building entrances, leveraging video intercoms to vet visitors in a secured vestibule implementation.
Although there are potential privacy issues still to be resolved with tools like facial recognition, similar video analytics tools can provide a valuable new way to flag unauthorized individuals before they gain access to the school.
Communications will likewise remain essential to day-to-day operations—as well as proving critical during emergencies. Interoperable technology that enables bi-directional communication from classrooms, handheld radios, and public access solutions provides a clear benefit to schools, particularly as the technology can be federated to law enforcement when needed, allowing for direct communication between authorities and those on the ground.