Providing cybersecurity, information security and an overall peace of mind is something NJEdge’s EdgeSecure delivers to its members. The EdgeSecure solution manages a members’ risk and provides a strategized protection system for an institution’s or organization’s entire ecosystem, while simplifying and organizing the cybersecurity challenges daily appearing on the horizon.
Difficulties arise when there aren’t protections in place or trained personnel to handle the challenges, something not always common in PreK-12 school systems. EdgeSecure is reaching out to New Jersey’s PreK-12 institutions and providing them with vigilant support in mitigating all manner of risk.
“Understanding security risks has been a complete eye-opener to many of our PreK-12 members and our goal is to make sure these schools have the knowledge and tools needed to make informed decisions on their security needs,” said Michelle Ferraro, NJEdge’s Preferred Account Engagement Manager.
NJEdge Partners with NJSBA
As reported in the Fall 2018 edition of View From The Edge, NJEdge entered into a shared services partnership with the New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA) in late 2018 to service the state’s PreK-12 school districts. These schools struggle with daily technology challenges, with data breaches and cybersecurity threats tragically occurring not only in New Jersey, but almost daily across the United States.
EdgeSecure provides each PreK-12 School District with a security strategy, regularly completing risk assessments and report scans, as well as delivering an executive summary that prioritizes risk recommendations. School administrators are also trained with a wealth of information and insights to foresee future security challenges.
“We have been ecstatic about this ongoing relationship with NJSBA,” said Michael Hacker, Director of Technology Systems and Professional Services Engagements. “I have a longstanding history with NJSBA in former roles and their work with the PreK-12 community has been integral to the continued transformation in education. I see this shared services partnership bringing New Jersey’s educational environment together as a whole to reinvigorate the PreK-20 collaborative.”
The partnership levels the playing field for PreK-12 school systems to gain access to better products and services at discounted prices. The NJEdge and NJSBA consortium partnership based pricing models offer PreK-12 schools the best in class pricing. Products and services are sometimes offered at a third of the price available on the open market. New Jersey’s youth suddenly receive access to programs commonplace in higher education.
“The consortium levels the playing field for pricing and technology advancement,” Hacker said. “It really does come down to providing quality education for all ages, making sure students migrate appropriately from the PreK-12 environment into higher education. Providing this pathway for students in PreK-12 to higher ed and trade schools and then into the workforce is the natural progression of everything we have been trying to accomplish. Technology is the catalyst that enables education to be delivered in such a way that these technology systems and software follow the student through their education lifecycle and beyond. If we can provide these products and services at a low cost, we have just solved one of the largest hurdles in the journey.”
With NJEdge partnering with NJSBA, the collaboration alleviates some of the financial burdens PreK-12 school systems regularly face. With the technology landscape shifting, districts often struggle to keep pace with all of the advancements. NJEdge helps its members succeed by utilizing technology solutions at a lower cost, a benefit of the consortium pricing program.
Ferraro said these tools and products would be almost impossible for PreK-12 systems to negotiate outside of the consortium, considering their small budgets or lack of technical resources to develop bids.
“We love when PreK-12s can join forces with NJEdge and take advantage of our benefits and our consortium pricing,” she said.
Advancing with Technology
In the past, PreK-12 schools typically have had their own data centers to maintain. In today’s world, institutions are quickly moving to the cloud. The transfer of information can be a capital and operational expense for a school.
“Changing how data is maintained can be a major challenge, especially when districts tend to handle everything themselves. PreK-12 schools have small IT staffs and more technology is getting layered into these districts, making it increasingly difficult for the schools to manage all of the changes,” Hacker explained. “A trusted partner like NJEdge is increasingly important.”
Security can become a giant pitfall for an organization, especially if the group doesn’t have the skills or technology needed to mitigate risks. These issues are one reason schools have been very open to Hacker and Ferraro speaking about security and the complex layers surrounding the topic.
Over the past six months, the pair has been visiting and speaking to school districts across New Jersey. The two technology experts have been sharing security advice and insight on security landscape changes, especially helpful to those people with traditional networking and systems backgrounds.
These technology meetings have been held throughout the state and include IT directors of the schools. Ferraro said many schools have not heard of NJEdge, and sharing NJEdge’s technology security offerings has become a segue into sharing more about NJEdge’s overall mission, benefits from membership, and the organization itself.
“The tech community is usually always happy to hear about us and excited to get the membership application approved so they can take advantage of the security assessment scans we’ve spoken about and gain access to the guidance and pricing we offer,” Ferraro said.
Hacker said because of these meetings, NJEdge has been invited to other groups wanting to learn more about them.
“NJEdge was once regarded as the best kept secret in New Jersey,” he said. “I would have to say we’ve received fantastic traction across PreK-12; what we provide really resonates with these individuals. The NJEdge and NJSBA alliance strives to ease the burden of the PreK-12 schools while creating awareness of services and technology solutions that can ultimately make their respective school environments better, safer and modernized.”
Common talking points at these meetings have been about Amazon Web Services or security for all the network’s endpoints. Once NJEdge membership occurs, EdgeSecure personnel go through the entire district’s layers and look for areas where risks can be mitigated. One tool NJEdge uses is a product called Cisco Umbrella which takes care of security for the north, south traffic.
“I’m looking at all levels of security and expanding beyond the endpoint, it’s much different from the traditional antivirus’s of the world,” he said. “As you begin to layer programs, you are always asking more questions. You get into Cloud saying, now that all of the firewalls are up and running, internal securities are up and running, what happens if we do get hit?”
In today’s world, the challenge is recognizing what to do when a system does get hit. Hacker says an organization needs to know if they have to recover from a disaster or backup to places like Amazon Web Services. EdgeSecure then provides each district with the resources and products needed for protection.
“Without help, many schools struggle to stay on top of these challenges. When PreK-12 districts have a trusted partner such as the NJEdge ecosystem that, in turn, has established relationships with groups such as the NJSBA or NJEdge’s cadre of industry partners, we can really help schools with the digital transformation and eliminate possible pitfalls,” Hacker said.
Another benefit of NJEdge promoting technology advancement in the state is there is staff in place to monitor new products and tools. For instance, Cisco Umbrella and Cylance are used today but these technologies may become outdated in the future. Hacker said they are always willing to change the tools NJEdge uses for cybersecurity and data protection. NJEdge isn’t tied into only one solution for their members.
“We’re always looking at the up and coming products and services to make sure we are using tools that fit best-in-class industry standards,” he said.
Helping PreK-12 School Districts Fight Attacks
As more PreK-12 school districts become aware of NJEdge and the organization’s programs, the administrators are seeing the value in NJEdge’s cybersecurity solution set. The security message resonates with these schools, especially when they watch colleagues being attacked regularly.
Schools experience ransomware attacks on a weekly basis. Education see attacks during PARCC Testing, and peers are constantly under fire from unknown entities outside of their environment. Sometimes students within the school are causing problems.
“The schools’ understand that security protection is something that needs to be taken care of. The problem is many districts don’t necessarily know the best path forward or what they can afford,” Hacker said. “Because their resources are so stretched, you’re immediately noticing a sense of relief when we share solutions.”
Another place where schools are stretched thin is available technology support. A PreK-12 school day tends to run from 7 a.m. to about 4 p.m. Because many districts have one-to-one initiatives, education is always happening and doesn’t stop at the end of the school day. Students take their Chrome Books home and continue to learn after hours. Teachers are updating students after hours, emailing and providing support.
Struggles occur when technology issues arise during these after hours. Hacker said rather than a student waiting until the next day, NJEdge’s EdgePro Services can step in and provide technical assistance. The help desk is available 24x7x365.
Technology changes are constantly occurring and school districts are trying to stay ahead of the transformations. However, when PreK-12 school districts partner with NJEdge, frustration levels are lowered, data is kept secure, and budgets can be stretched. New Jersey’s education is placed at the forefront and students can find success throughout their education career.
“At the heart of everything we do here at NJEdge, our desire is to help our members succeed by utilizing technology solutions at a lower cost,” Ferraro said.