School-Issued iPads, Laptops Become Target for Thieves

As more school districts across the country are adopting iPads and laptops, the security and safety of these devices is becoming an important issue. Thieves are targeting schools and students to steal iPads and laptops, and some recent incidents of iPad theft have raised concerns over security of the expensive devices.

In California, the parent-teacher association at River Glen School in San Jose scraped together donated dollars and grant money to buy iPads for every classroom. The iPads program was designed to close the gap between rich and poor students and, in one night, thieves walked away with half of what they had worked for, writes Brett M. Kelman of USA Today.

In late October, someone took two lockable security carts from the computer lab, police said. One held 30 laptops, the other held 30 iPads. Nothing has been recovered. A growing number of small schools across the country are facing similar break-in issues.

In California, Agua Caliente Elementary in Cathedral City lost a few tablets before security forced burglars to flee. Also, John B. Drake Elementary School in Chicago have lost hundreds of iPads in a single break-in.

“Teachers and administrators are so excited about the tech that it’s very easy to overlook the security implications until it’s too late,” said Ken Trump, a school safety expert in Cleveland who has consulted with campuses in every state. “It’s not just an issue of protecting the devices in the school itself. It’s also an issue, even more importantly, of protecting the children coming to and from school.”

Safety experts say that school districts must address the vulnerability before beginning a technology program. Los Angeles Unified, which is the second-largest school district in the nation, is working to provide iPads for all 640,000 students by 2014 — a tremendous and well-publicized mass of technology that leaves criminals’ mouths watering.

“The first step needs to be having a candid conversation with the user — the student — who has a great deal of naiveté,” Trump said. “Most kids don’t think that if they whip out an iPad on the walk home, they may have made themselves a target to anybody on that street corner.”

The Cleveland Heights-University Heights School District, which serves about 6,000 students in northeastern Ohio, issued 1,300 iPads to its middle school students last fall.

At first, the tablets were a triumph for the district, “shouted from the rooftops” in celebration, said district spokeswoman Angee Shaker. Nobody considered this might attract robbers, who saw middle school students as easy targets.

Less than a week after the district handed out the tablets, the district saw more than a dozen students had been mugged on the way home from school. The thieves had learned to deactivate a tracking software on the tablets so they stole iPads exclusively, according to Shaker.

Following these issues, many school districts have started to harden security so students can take their tablets home without fear.

Coachella Valley Unified has decided to issue an iPad to each of its 19,000 students in 2013. These new tablets are equipped with a security system that can only be removed by Apple itself, according to Darryl Adams, superintendent of the Coachella Valley Unified, a rural school district in the deserts of southern California.

These iPads will shut down unless they “check in” with the school district network every time they connect to the Internet, Adams said.