Industry Trends

Improving Safety in Schools Through the Convergence of Digital and Physical Security

By Fortinet | June 13, 2019

This is a summary of a byline article written for by Fortinet’s Vice President of Strategy and Analytics, Jonathan Nguyen-Duy. The entire article can be accessed here.

K-12 schools are under increasing pressure to protect the personal information of their students, along with the safety of the students themselves. Converging physical and cybersecurity is critical for student safety as well as enabling network performance and secure education.

K-12 classrooms have embraced new learning initiatives through digital transformation efforts, including BYOD programs and e-learning strategies. In order to make the most out of these digitally-centered curriculums, IT teams must be able to provide students and staff with a seamless experience so as to not hinder learning opportunities. This includes things like high bandwidth, roaming through and between school environments, and supporting devices that transition between home and school.”

– Jonathan Nguyen-Duy,, May 06, 2019

K-12 schools are also popular targets for cybercriminals looking to steal data and exploit resources. So, in addition to performance issues, extra care must be taken to protect connected devices against viruses, data breaches, and malware.

But that is only part of the equation. Digital resources can also be used to provide for the physical safety of students. These include things like surveillance cameras, digitally controlled access points such as exterior and classroom doors, motion detectors, automated alarm systems, and facial recognition software that can alert administrators and security personnel of potential intruders and take measures to contain them.

While these technology-based physical security tools offer important benefits in regards to education and safety, they also present new risks due to the expanded attack surface created by the connection of these new devices to campus networks.”

– Jonathan Nguyen-Duy,, May 06, 2019

However, cybercriminals are also increasingly targeting things like surveillance cameras in order to do things like “interfere with private conversations, gain access to cyber systems to steal information or launch an attack, and even shut cameras off, putting students’ safety at risk.” In fact, at the end of 2018, six of the top 12 global exploits identified and ranked by FortiGuard Labs threat research were targeting IoT devices – and four out of those top 12 were IP-enabled cameras. Likewise, “other cyber-connected systems, such as physical entryways and digitally controlled physical countermeasures to lock down facilities and isolate intruders, present similar vulnerabilities and risks.”

Finally, compliance must be a top consideration as K-12 schools are required to demonstrate compliance with regulations such as CIPA, FERPA, and COPPA in order to protect students and their personal data.

Digital and Physical Security in K-12 Programs

Because K-12 security requirements are so complex and dynamic, traditionally isolated point products simply cannot keep up.

This is compounded by the fact that many schools lack the security personnel required to keep up with the changing threat landscape, adding to the challenge of cybersecurity in these environments. The integration of physical security solutions, such as surveillance cameras and badge readers, with network security requires additional controls designed to recognize and respond to threats. By operating cameras on Next Generation Firewalls (NGFWs), for example, these devices would be protected against hacking attempts and other threats.”

– Jonathan Nguyen-Duy,, May 06, 2019

While consolidating physical security solutions into the network is a critical step towards providing comprehensive security for students and faculty, IT teams need to ensure that network bandwidth can support complete availability, such as uninterrupted video streaming. They also need to ensure that firewall protection spans from the core to the outermost edges of the network to effectively defend against external attacks.

To achieve this level of protection, IT teams must understand which solutions can safely be utilized. Employing a high-performance surveillance solution that is fully-integrated you’re your cybersecurity resources—such as the FortiCamera—protection is guaranteed because all elements are purpose-built and hardened to withstand cyberthreats.

Final Thoughts

Without proper security measures in place, K-12 schools are likely to face cyberattacks which not only put the personal information of students and staff at risk, but that can also compromise physical security solutions that can put the physical safety of individuals at risk.

Despite the benefits that physical security solutions can offer, therefore, it is critical that these solutions be securely integrated into the network so they can effectively defend against both cyber and physical threats—all while ensuring that performance is never compromised.


This is a summary of a byline article written for entitled “Improving safety in K-12 schools through the convergence of digital and physical security”, written by Fortinet’s Vice President of Strategy and Analytics, Jonathan Nguyen-Duy, and published May 06, 2019. 

Learn more about how Fortinet offers cost-effective, simple security for today’s connected students with the Fortinet Security Fabric with broad, integrated, and automated protection across an organization’s entire digital attack surface.

Find out how Echoenergia and New Zealand Red Cross used Fortinet’s Security Fabric for end-to-end network protection.