Do you think enough about the safety of your school’s data and hardware? Mark Exley, of Lapsafe Products, talks us through why ICT safety is such a big issue and the practical steps you can take to help.
Earlier this month, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) reported an unfortunate incident at Holly Park School in Barnet in which an unencrypted laptop was stolen from a school office.
Unfortunately, cases like this are not uncommon. In fact, theft of school mobile ICT devices appears to be on the increase.
Often large and open-plan, schools can be prime targets for both organised and opportunist theft. Netbooks, laptops and tablets are small and light, so they can be easily concealed and removed from a building if the effective security measures are not in place.
Laptop Theft Can Be More Than a Headache
So, why should you be worried about laptop theft?
Not only can having ICT devices stolen cause inconvenience for your pupils and colleagues, who may be left without computer equipment, but laptop theft can result in increased insurance premiums if your school has to claim for its loss.
What’s more, laptop theft can seriously endanger pupils; if the details or photographs of vulnerable children fall into the hands of thieves or blackmailers, the consequences do not bear thinking about.
If this does happen, your school could even be fined a large sum of money by the ICO if your actions are deemed to have breached the Data Protection Act.
Enough with the frightening facts, how can we go about addressing the problem?
Have a Robust Policy in Place
The good news is that there are lots of ways that you can make your school less vulnerable to theft, and many of these do not involve spending too much cash.
As a starting-point, you need to make sure that your school has an ICT security policy in place. This should include rules about data protection, online security and guidance for how your school’s ICT should be physically protected. Guidelines are only as good as those who follow them, so you should organise some regular training for your colleagues. Teachers can then pass on this information to their pupils.
Next, you should take care not to accidentally advertise how many laptops, tablets and netbooks your school has. Resist listing ICT equipment on your school’s website, including laptop trolley rotas, discussing your assets on social networking sites or informing the local press when your school has purchased a lot of new equipment. It is also a good idea to ask any external IT technician and school visitor to present ID before they are taken to service computers, or other valuable resources.
Although many security measures involve little more than common sense, it is also important to utilise physical security to keep your ICT safe. This is especially important with the half term approaching when staff are unlikely to be on site, or for when equipment needs to be stored overnight.
Keeping Laptops and Tablets Safe and Secure
Laptops and tablets are best protected in a secured lockable cabinet that can be bolted to the wall or floor. Locking laptops in a room or cupboard is not enough; the cabinet should be constructed of reinforced steel, not wood or plastic, and be designed to resist crowbars, cutting equipment and lock-pickers. If you are going to store your laptops in a mobile charging trolley, pick one with a motion sensor alarm and make sure you lock away your keys overnight.
If schools are located in crime hotspots, or even when pupils are working in open-plan areas, security cables can be useful. These can deter thieves and help prevent equipment being stolen whilst in use, or if a student is unexpectedly called away.
Mobile ICT theft is becoming an increasingly common issue for schools and can lead to rising insurance premiums, disruption to learning and even compromise pupil safety. By following the above tips, you can take steps to safeguard your school’s technology and reduce the risk of laptop theft.
Mark Exley is General Manager for Product Development at ICT security specialist LapSafe Products®, who manufacture a range of security, tracking and charging solutions to manage mobile ICT in schools.