IBM Boosts Cyber Security and AI Skills in Schools: A Step Towards a Safer Digital Future

By Erik Linask, Group Editorial Director  |  May 23, 2023

Ransomware incidents are unfolding faster than ever, posing a significant threat to various sectors, including education.  Part of it the ease of initiating an attack.  In 2019, the average time to launch a ransomware attack was more than two months.  Just a year later in 2020, it had dropped to 9.5 days, and in 2020, that figure dropped again, to less than 4 days. 

Alarmingly, cyber security incidents in the education sector more than doubled in 2022 compared to the previous year, including attacks against some of the largest school systems in the country, like New York and Los Angeles.  Several attacks have shut down school systems for several days and, in some cases, schools were hit by multiple attacks and had to cut off access to digital resources and revert to traditional learning and communication methods.

While attack types vary, malware volume, in particular, increased significantly in the education sector in 2022, especially those targeting K-12 institutions, which grew by an astounding 323 percent.

“Time and time again attackers go after the education sector, yet many of these institutions remain constrained in their security resources," said Andy Piazza, Global Head of Threat Intelligence, IBM (News - Alert) Security X-Force. 

In response to the escalating threat of ransomware and other cyber security incidents within the education sector, IBM has made an ongoing commitment to bolstering cyber resiliency in schools.  The tech giant has pledged to provide in-kind grants valued at $5 million aimed at enhancing cyber security and AI skills in schools around the world.

The grant includes various elements such as:

  • Incident response plans and ransomware playbooks,
  • Programs to address the need for updating operating systems,
  • Strategic communication plans to use in response to cyber incidents, and
  • Training and digital credentials through IBM SkillsBuild on AI and cyber security topics.

The program also includes enhanced access to IBM mentors, teacher training and toolkits, and customized learning pathways.  Since the program's inception in 2021, IBM has received hundreds of applications from school districts seeking to strengthen their security postures.

The Importance of Cyber Security Education in Schools

The cyber security landscape is evolving rapidly, and it's essential that the upcoming generation is adequately prepared to navigate it.  A key element of this preparation is education.  Cyber security education in schools is not just about protecting the school's digital infrastructure, but also about equipping students with the skills and knowledge they need to protect themselves online.

Schools are being targeted by cybercriminals due to their often less mature security frameworks, making them easy targets.  As Robert Losinski, Manager of Information Security at Denver Public Schools, which has benefited from IBM's initiative, pointed out, “Getting professional assistance in expanding your cyber security program will really help you identify the most critical areas to protect.”

Another element that makes education systems vulnerable is the huge number of young students without an understanding of cyber threats.  The need to introduce cyber security at an early age has never been more apparent. The digital world is an integral part of children’s lives – with that comes exposure to various online threats.  From personal and system-wide data breaches to cyber bullying, children are at risk if they do not understand the fundamentals of online safety. 

Instilling cyber awareness at an early age can help build safer digital environments for them, their families, and their school systems. It helps foster a culture of security, promotes safe online habits, and makes students less likely to fall victim to online scams or to unwittingly share sensitive information that can be exploited by bad actors.

This kind of early cyber education also opens up a pathway to a potential career in cyber security, an industry that is experiencing a significant skills gap and is in need of a new generation of experts.

Cyber Security Skills: A Necessity for the Future

The global skills gap in cyber security and AI is a pressing issue.  IBM's grant also includes access to IBM SkillsBuild training on topics like AI and cyber security.  This not only arms students with critical skills but also provides them with digital credentials, providing them a head start on career pathways, for those who are interested in getting into the IT sector.

The evolution of cyber crime in the United States mirrors the rapid expansion of digital technologies and internet connectivity.  As the digital landscape has evolved, so too have the nature and scope of cyber threats.  The early days of cyber crime were marked by relatively isolated incidents, often perpetrated by individuals or small groups for personal gain or to demonstrate technical prowess. However, the past decade has seen a significant shift, with cyber crime becoming increasingly sophisticated, organized, and widespread. 

Naturally, this has been followed by a surge in demand for cyber security professionals.  Unfortunately, global cyber security job openings have grown faster than its workforce, leaving a growing cyber security talent gap, which was up to 3.4 million last year (almost 450,000 in North America).

“The global skills gap across cyber security and AI is a growing challenge that demands immediate attention,” said Justina Nixon-Saintil, IBM Chief Impact Officer.  “To address this challenge, IBM awards Education Security Preparedness Grants to drive impact with schools worldwide.  This year, we're excited to expand the program to bring the benefits of IBM SkillsBuild training on topics like AI and cyber security for students and teachers.”

How to Apply

The increasing threat of cyber attacks underscores the need for robust cyber security measures and education. Initiatives like IBM's Education Security Preparedness Grants play a crucial role in addressing these challenges, providing schools with the resources they need to protect their digital infrastructures and teaching students and staff critical cyber security skills. This not only secures schools in the present, but also prepares them and their students for a safer digital future.

In an era where technology plays an integral part in our lives, cyber security is no longer an optional skill, but a necessary one.  By introducing cyber security education in schools, IBM is helping equip the next generation with the knowledge they need to navigate the global digital landscape safely and responsibly.

K-12 public schools and educational institutions/organizations interested in applying for IBM's education cyber security grant can apply via IBM's official website.  The application deadline is June 23.  The program will award six school districts in the US and four more internationally set to receive grants worth $500,000 each.

Edited by Erik Linask
Get stories like this delivered straight to your inbox. [Free eNews Subscription]