Wheatley’s Dedicated Approach to School Cybersecurity

Wheatley students returning after a sixteen day winter break may undergo short term memory loss. So when some Wheatley students found themselves playing the role of tech support for their peers, it didn’t come as a surprise that no one seemed to  remember exactly why their Wifi wasn’t working. 

On Thursday, January 9th, 2020, Wheatley instituted one of three new cybersecurity policies that would drastically change the school’s digital landscape. In a school-wide email, prior to break, Director of Technology, Innovation, and Information Sciences, Mr. Ed Kemnitzer, detailed these three new changes: no more flash drives on district computers, an alternative method of logging on to the school’s public Wifi network, and teacher’s @ewsdonline.org accounts would cease to exist and be entirely replaced with their @ewsdmail.org email addresses. These new guidelines would be implemented gradually over the course of three months: December, January, and February. 

The first of these changes, the complete removal of flash drives, was enacted on December 20th, but was forgotten in the excitement of the ICU Luncheon. In reality, this restriction does not directly impact the majority of Wheatley students. Countless students debated the importance of flash drives in a school setting, but most came to the conclusion that they are seldom used or necessary. It was agreed, the general populace’s primary mode of digital storage is Google Drive, easily accessible and navigable. The general sentiment can best be expressed in the words of a junior, “If I ever used a USB it’d be at home and most likely not at school… They aren’t archaic but they aren’t anything trendy or critical among this generation, maybe among millennials. Plus, I’d probably lose it in my bag. Why use a USB when I can and already do everything on Google Drive?” 

That isn’t to say flash drives serve no purpose at Wheatley. Our school’s photography program relies on flash drives to print out or upload pictures. To circumvent this new policy students will use school issued laptops, already connected to our printers, and store pictures on our desktop network. While an unfamiliar practice, it’s all in our best interest and safety after all. 

The second change, just executed, broke up the school’s former public Wifi network, EWWLAN, into EWUFSD-Guest, a public network, and EWUFSD-WLAN, a private network. To use this Wifi from a non-school issued device, such as a Macbook or phone, one must sign in using their email credentials every six months. 

The motivations for these changes, specified in Mr. Kemnitzer’s original email to the school community, were concerns of potential vulnerability to cyberattacks, as Long Island schools have been subjected to recently. The new Wifi network aims to create a secure digital environment for Wheatley and the district as a whole. 

While the new Wifi approach does achieve these goals, the largest threats to Wheatley cybersecurity are, as a matter of fact, phishing emails with malware attachments. The school’s proactiveness began in part due to hacks nearby, through phishing emails, in the Rockville Center and Mineola School Districts last August. Before the start of the current school year, the two districts unfortunately encountered hackers through interacting with ransomware attachments. The Rockville Center School District attack cost $88,000 in ransom. Mineola had a backup system to salvage its data. Despite this, the two recent attacks shed light on how vulnerable school email networks truly are. 

Every student in the district has access to an email but each age group has usage restrictions. When they move up Wheatley, students are able to email people outside of the network, simultaneously also making them the most susceptible to viruses. While it should be as obvious to us to avoid malware as we are trained to avoid strangers when we are children, the school’s perceptiveness in cybersecurity will surely pay off in the long run. 

The final change, that of a single email domain is a welcome change..Every student in the building has been confused about whether to email their teacher’s ewsdonline or ewsdmail account. Eliminating ewsdonline accounts and relying only on ewsdmail accounts relieves us of this constant dilemma. A win for all. Long gone will be the days of wondering how exactly to contact teachers through emails. 

In addition to guaranteeing the safety of our school, these improvements have been carried out very seamlessly. Obviously, the process of logging in to use Wifi is unfamiliar but only having to do it every six months virtually means never having to log in again. If you’re an 8th grader that means you only have to log in around ten times in your entire Wheatley career. Not too much to ask is it? 

The accommodation of every student’s personal device onto the school Wifi, instead of being kicked off the network, has been generally unnoticed by the student body. However, because of this, the school is still able to function harmoniously. If personal devices weren’t included, in order for more safety, a large number of Wheatley students would be at a loss and forced to revert back to their Chromebooks and cellular data on their phones, a costly move likely to cause an uproar. 

These simple and small changes are sure to positively affect the security landscape of our school. Wheatley has always been a frontrunner when it comes to protecting its students, whether it be educating them on the dangers of vaping, implementing physical security measures such as scanning our IDs, or ensuring our cybersecurity. At the end of the day, the administration has done a commendable job protecting us and providing us with a stable school environment for years to come. 



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