What Happens When Schools Hire an Ethical Hacker?

Getting a professional penetration test can expose network vulnerabilities in K–12.

Mikela Lea

Ed Tech

Summary of "What Happens When Schools Hire an Ethical Hacker?" by Mikela Lea

In her article "What Happens When Schools Hire an Ethical Hacker?", Mikela Lea explores the critical role of ethical hackers in enhancing the cybersecurity of K-12 schools. Ethical hacking, also known as penetration testing, involves identifying and addressing vulnerabilities in a school's network before malicious actors can exploit them.

Importance of Ethical Hacking in Schools

Schools hold highly valuable student data, making them prime targets for cyberattacks. Despite the inevitability of some attacks, schools can take proactive steps to mitigate risks by hiring ethical hackers. Penetration testing allows schools to identify weaknesses in their network, thereby strengthening their defenses against potential breaches.

Comprehensive Penetration Testing

Lea emphasizes that effective cybersecurity requires more than just a one-time penetration test. Schools benefit from conducting annual penetration tests to keep up with the ever-evolving technological landscape and frequent security patches. These tests provide critical insights that may be overlooked by school IT teams preoccupied with daily tasks.

Penetration testing should encompass both internal and external assessments. Internal tests simulate attacks from within the network, such as phishing attempts or malware introduced by disgruntled employees. External tests evaluate the network’s defenses against outside threats. Ethical hackers look for missing patches, misconfigurations, and weaknesses in firewall configurations, providing detailed recommendations for addressing any identified vulnerabilities.

Challenges and Recommendations

Budget constraints and a lack of in-house IT security staff are significant barriers for schools. Despite these challenges, investing in regular penetration testing can save schools from the high costs of cyber recovery and disruptions to learning. Lea highlights that even well-funded schools with advanced security tools are not immune to vulnerabilities, underscoring the necessity of regular testing.

For instance, Lea recounts an incident where she accessed an external-facing server at a well-funded school within 15 minutes due to an unchanged password. This underscores the importance of continuous monitoring and timely updates to security protocols.

Addressing IT Staff Shortages

The shortage of skilled IT security staff in schools exacerbates cybersecurity challenges. According to the CoSN 2024 State of EdTech District Leadership survey, while cybersecurity is a top concern, only a fraction of schools have established dedicated cybersecurity teams or had their practices audited externally. Given these limitations, annual penetration testing becomes even more crucial, serving as a vital line of defense against cyber threats.


Ethical hacking is an essential strategy for schools to safeguard their networks and protect sensitive student data. By proactively identifying and addressing vulnerabilities through regular penetration testing, schools can significantly enhance their cybersecurity posture. Investing in these preventative measures not only protects against potential attacks but also ensures a secure and resilient learning environment.

Source: Mikela Lea, "What Happens When Schools Hire an Ethical Hacker?" EdTech, June 6, 2024. Link

Original Article


Prepared with the assistance of AI software

OpenAI. (2024). ChatGPT (4) [Large language model]. https://chat.openai.com

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