Government Facilities Sector: Education

The Education Facilities sub-sector, part of the Government Facilities Sector, consists of physical and human assets. This includes all school facilities, buses, portable classrooms, campus grounds, students and staff at Pre-K to 12 public school districts, charter schools, non-public schools, and higher education institutions. 

New Jersey is home to about 2,500 Pre-K to 12 public schools in 604 districts responsible for 1.37 million students. The New Jersey Office of the Secretary of Higher Education recognizes and licenses 79 institutions of higher education.

Threat

Cyber: High
The Education Facilities sub-sector faces a high cyber threat due to the value of intellectual property and personal information of students and employees stored on vulnerable networks. Additionally, disruptive tactics such as distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks can severely impact a school’s operations. The resources needed to carry out these attacks are increasingly accessible via the Internet and Dark Web.

Terrorism: Low
The Education Facilities sub-sector has been targeted by both foreign and domestic terrorists internationally, and there have been disrupted plots against the sector in the US. Although foreign terrorist organizations have only directed attacks against the sector in conflict zones, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) called for an attack against schools in Europe. In 2015, an ISIS-inspired homegrown violent extremist was arrested in Massachusetts for plotting to attack the Education Facilities sub-sector. Additionally, a far-right domestic terrorist in Sweden carried out an attack at his school, killing two.

Natural Hazards
During hurricanes and winter storms, schools are commonly used as shelters for people evacuating their homes. During Superstorm Sandy in 2012, county community colleges, state colleges, and universities organized emergency shelters across the State. Roughly 850 people evacuated from Atlantic County and sought shelter at Rutgers University’s Busch and Livingston campuses in Piscataway.

Swatting
In 2015, New Jersey’s Education Facilities sub-sector was targeted 90 times by swatting—the act of falsely reporting an ongoing emergency or threat of violence in to prompt an immediate law enforcement response—according to an NJOHSP analysis of suspicious activity reports (SARs). This is approximately 40 percent of all swatting SARs in the State.  

Preparedness

In January 2016, Governor Christie signed “Abigail’s Law,” requiring all new school buses in New Jersey to be equipped with a sensor to determine the presence of objects in the front or back of the bus.

The New Jersey Legislature is considering the School Bus Safety and Child Protection Act, which would require criminal background checks for bus drivers and school bus aides. It would also prohibit interference with school bus monitoring devices. 

Signed into law in January 2016, the On-Campus Criminal Reporting Bill requires the president or designee of a public college or university to report all crimes, fires, and other emergencies that occurred on campus to their institution’s governing board at each regular meeting.

The New Jersey Department of Education Office of School Preparedness and Emergency Planning offers resources on school safety, including best practices.

Intelligence Gaps

  • How are extremists planning to attack New Jersey’s Education Facilities sub-sector?
  • What extremists are interacting with students via social media?
  • What types of research data are cyber espionage actors targeting?
  • What tactics are cyber actors using to penetrate and exfiltrate data from education networks?

For more information, please contact NJOHSP's Preparedness Bureau at preparedness@njohsp.gov.