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Securing Schools for our Kids

November 12, 2006

A Herald-Mail story last month told of how nine reporters entered and walked around Maryland area schools for as much as 20 minutes before being asked for identification.  Of course, we can prevent unauthorized people from entering schools by deploying better security.  But how do we keep from making the schools into prisons?  Protecting the nation’s schools is similar to protecting many other aspects of our critical infrastructure.

When approaching any security problem, it is important to address the basic security categories in the right order.  It’s fine to put up controls that inhibit or control behavior – metal detectors, firewalls, guards, encryption.  But each of those controls assumes certain privileges based on identity.  The 5th grader may not carry a pocket knife, but the custodian may.  A vulnerability audit will produce a fine, detailed report of who is doing what, and how well systems are working, but the entire report is nearly worthless if the auditor does not have confidence that people are who they say they are.  After all, how can the activity log be sure that Mrs. Davidson entered the school computer network if her password is so simple that student could guess it?

Authentication is the foundation – the first and most important element of any security program.  How well you know who the people are and what their role in the organization or school is – that’s how well your authorization controls, administration systems, and audit reports will be.

To secure our schools, we must first identify who is coming and going.  Only then can we build a cost-effective program to protect students, teachers, parents and employees.

The smartest education boards and agencies institute a student and parent identification program.
Such a program of issuing smart card ID badges to students probably ought to be deployed on a local level, but federal coordination is necessary to protect the rights of  children and parents who move or change legal custody rights.

Remember, when it comes to schools, it is not our job to secure the building, it is our job to create a safe, productive learning environment for the children.

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