Absolute’s Third Annual K-12 Endpoint Risk Report Examines IT and Security Outcomes of the Scramble to Digital Learning

By: Alana Bennett | 8/18/2021 | 4 min read

The rush to establish widespread digital learning programs over the last year was nothing short of a massive undertaking for education IT teams. Under the watchful eyes of government regulators and parents suddenly home every day alongside their school-aged children, the immediate priority was to keep students learning and engaged despite prolonged uncertainty. In our third annual edition of the Absolute Endpoint Risk Report: Education Edition, we examine both the persistent challenges and practical solutions brought about by this massive shift in hopes of helping education IT teams determine what they should prioritize in the coming year and beyond.

Leveraging anonymized data from over 10,000 schools and districts, the Absolute Endpoint Risk Report: Education Edition illustrates how distance learning has been fully embraced – but that critical efficiency and security gaps remain. Districts expanded their device fleets by hundreds or even thousands of devices as students and staff used them more frequently from widespread locations. But as digital technologies were quickly adopted and usage drastically increased, so did risk levels.

New devices and applications, delays in patching, and fragile security controls were already adding significant levels of complexity to education IT environments… and if there is one thing we know for certain, it is that more complexity means more vulnerability. All of this comes in an industry where security has traditionally taken a back seat to competing priorities and extremely limited resources. Today’s education IT teams are being asked to enable modern learning and successfully navigate enterprise-level security issues in many cases without adequate staff resources or funding.

Looking back at lessons learned from the last school year while preparing for the start of a new one, these are three key trends that emerged:

  • 1:1 acceleration leads to device sprawl. 1:1 programs are now in place for 90 percent of middle and high school students and 84 percent of elementary students, according to the EdWeek Research Center. Among Absolute’s education customers, not only did the sheer number of devices deployed spike 74 percent from 2019 to 2020, but so did the miles between devices and schools managing them. Nearly half (47%) of devices analyzed were found to be more than 25 miles from their school or district in spring 2021, compared to 27% in spring 2020. Maintaining visibility and control over their distributed fleets must be top of mind for education IT teams- particularly as funding audits, and the need to justify budgets and spend, loom large.
  • Increases in overall engagement lead to increase in ‘shadow education’. Once the school year started, student and staff overall device usage increased as did the time engaging with educational resources online. School-study was often supplemented with self-learning, both for students who struggled and needed extra help and students looking to supplement their learning with added challenges. These trends give rise to a new phenomenon IT must now manage: ‘shadow education.’ As is the case with shadow IT, students and teachers have come to rely on a wide variety of supplemental applications and learning resources outside of what has been pre-approved and supported so IT must be prepared.
  • Complexity takes security from afterthought to imperative. According to the FBI, schools are now the top target for cybercriminals looking to steal and/or ransom data. Evolving learning environments have given way to a growing number of applications needed to support (now 6.7 per device), increasing both complexity and vulnerability as well as making patching delays more common. While they continue to be largely underfunded and under-resourced, security must become a top priority for education IT teams in order to protect students, staff, and their privacy.

The accelerated digital transformation we’ve seen across K-12, and the learn from anywhere environment it has enabled, has certainly opened up many opportunities as schools have embraced this new digital reality. But, it has also presented a number of challenges districts must address to keep students and staff safe, connected, and productive… and maintaining visibility and control over the entire endpoint environment is a critical first step.

The Absolute Platform for Endpoint Resilience® enables a secure, unbreakable connection to every endpoint, delivering unmatched visibility and intelligence into devices, data, and applications across the entire endpoint environment. Firmware-embedded in almost every Windows device — and easily extended to Chromebooks and Macs — Absolute can be activated remotely for instant access to a continuous stream of data from every device and a powerful suite of tools for asset and data management, as well as threat remediation.

Learn more about key trends in education IT and security, and gain practical guidance on how to manage and secure your 1:1 device program, by downloading the 2021-22 Absolute Endpoint Risk Report: Education Edition.

Three Key Trends Every K-12 IT Leader Should Know

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