Majority of Iowa schools not using cyber security tools from state agency

Published: Aug. 22, 2022 at 8:35 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Nine K-12 entities, according to the Office of the Chief Information Officer, are using the state agencies’ cyber security services.

The Office of the Chief Information Officer, also known as the OCIO, is a state agency with the mission to provide IT services to government and cities through partnerships and delivering services. According to a presentation made to lawmakers, a majority of counties and state agencies use the agency’s core services around cyber security.

Gloria Van Rees, who is a spokesperson for the department, said the services provided and the specific school districts using those services in an email are confidential under state law.

Bill Horning, who is the IT Director for Johnson County, said his county uses services from the OCIO because they are free. He said they are funded through a grant from the federal government and the county buy systems it needs to secure its network from bad actors.

“It just saves the county from putting dollars out,” Horning said. “Some of these might cost you a $100 for each client. In our situation, we have 500 clients on a network. That’s a significant cost to us.”

He said these services allow smaller counties, which usually have smaller budgets and smaller IT departments to have a high level of protection against potential bad actors.

Doug Jacobson, who studies cyber security as a professor at Iowa State University, said these types of public-backed services allow entities to add layers of cyber protections. He said these services also allow similar organizations to monitor and communicate about common threats.

“When they see an attack here, they can help inform everybody else to defend against that same attack,” Jacobson said.

TV9 asked the Iowa Department of Education about how it makes districts aware of the services provided by the OCIO. A spokesperson for the department referred us to an earlier statement, which said the department doesn’t have oversight of a local school district’s technology infrastructure, and that decisions are made locally.

The OCIO Office didn’t get back to us on how those services for school districts are specifically funded. However, documents show the OCIO is funded through fees charged to agencies for IT services and the federal government requires it breaks even.