A logo sits illuminated outside the IBM booth at the SK telecom booth on day 1 of the GSMA Mobile World Congress on February 28, 2022 in Barcelona, Spain. IBM expanded a program for free cybersecurity assistance for K-12 schools internally. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

IBM has expanded its offer for free cybersecurity assistance for K-12 schools into an international program it values at $5 million of in-kind support, the company announced Tuesday.

Last year's program supported six United States school districts across the country. The new program will service ten schools including ones in Brazil, Costa Rica, Ireland and the United Arab Emirates.

Education has been a common target for ransomware attacks over the past year, forcing Lincoln University of Illinois to close earlier this month.

Primary schools offer a high-value target for cybercriminals because large amounts of personal data is often defended by very little security,  Ray Sims, IBM Security X-Force global lead for training and education, told SC Media.  

"Budget constraints are a significant barrier to strengthening educational institutions' cyber posture, and very often educators and administrators don't receive basic security training," he said. "When there is no security strategy in place that accounts of the very baseline security measures, attackers know that they are able to execute fairly 'low lift' attacks against them."

Last year's program received applications from more than 250 school districts. Schools interested in the coming year can apply on the IBM website.

Sims said applicants would be judged based on criteria including location, size of district and current security posture in an attempt to maximize their effort.

IBM did not answer questions about how specifically the $5 million figure translates to services and product, but a press release says it will be a mix of resources and IBM employee time.

Sims believes that the same problems plaguing United States primary schools will likely be seen across the globe.

"While regulation and compliance requirements may differ in each country, making certain postures stronger by default, the challenges remain the same," he said.  "First and foremost, schools – whether it be a kindergarten or a college – simply aren't able to afford the security resources or staff with the security expertise that an enterprise would."