Cyber News Guest Blog

This is a guest post, written by Indrė Vaicekavičiūtė of Cybernews.

Similar to the marketing agencies that use predictive analytics to develop promotional strategies, schools collect and store student addresses, contact numbers, performance reports, and social security numbers to improve their offerings. With the help of these analytics, schools can better promote enrollment and retention, boost completion rates, and optimize their financial and personnel resources. 

However, this information is sensitive and is highly targeted by cybercriminals seeking to commit identity theft, financial fraud, or other malicious activities. Because of this, schools have a legal and ethical responsibility to safeguard this data and ensure that it is only used for education-related purposes, as failure to properly secure student data can lead to reputational damage, legal and financial penalties, and most importantly, harm to the students whose information has been compromised.

Since it is crucial to safeguard student information in this data-driven world, this post will cover some effective tips to help schools and teachers ensure better data security.

Tips to Protect Student Data

Teachers, administrators, and school board people need to understand the security landscape within the education industry to protect their students’ data from attacks and loss. This post compiles a list of tips to help educational institutions and educators safeguard their student data:

Limit Access to Data Records

One way of reducing this risk is by limiting how many records can be accessed simultaneously. Putting all data in one place can be convenient, but it increases their exposure to a ruinous breach. Any system a school adopts for data safety needs several safeguards, including the least privileged access protocols and controls.

For direct access to any database containing user data, there should be many crosschecks. Schools should also limit student data sharing even within a user account to invited parties only, so they don’t have any point of failure that could expose their entire dataset.

Educate and Train Educators

Among many big challenges is ensuring educators and admins follow IT best practices. Instead of assuming that staff members automatically comprehend certain aspects of handling student data, educational organizations should offer training in security and data protection, including additional training on breaking developments, to teach them how to recognize a potential threat and respond.

Staff members are the best and first line of defense, so they must have the knowledge they need, like knowing how to access information responsibly and raising the alarm without delay in case of a breach. Additionally, they should treat unusual received information with a high degree of suspicion, even if it is from a trusted source. Staff must also be taught never to click a link in a panic; instead, they should do it after careful assessment of the link’s safety.

Use A Virtual Private Network

Another good approach to protect student data is to use a virtual private network (VPN). A VPN functions by establishing a secure, encrypted connection between the computer and the internet, providing a private tunnel for the data and communications as users use the public networks. However, all VPNs differ from one another, so they must be vetted before use. While some are cheaper, others offer more server and protocol options and other features. Some reliable VPNs include ExpressVPN, NordVPN, and Surfshark.

Do Cloud Apps Backup

The first approach is to use cloud-based storage or remote backup systems to ensure the data can be restored in case of getting targeted. This involves continuous evaluation of the providers to see if they still meet safety priorities and protocols. Another way is to add backups for cloud apps, like backing up data created in cloud-based applications. Administrative staff and educators might be using G Suite and Microsoft 365 to create and share documents and collaborate, which makes them crucial to their organization.

Taking backups of this data offers them additional security in case of mistaken overwrites and deletions, malicious deletes, synchronization problems, viruses, and ransomware attacks. They also get the ability to recover data on a granular level. Admins are typically in control of retention policies, so they can get the deleted or lost crucial information even after many days.

Be Transparent with Students, Parents, and Guardians

When the school and teachers are upfront with the students and their parents/guardians, gaining and keeping their confidence gets much easier in the long run. They must know what data will be accessible to them and why. School websites can house this data, as well as the student handbook. In addition, creating a list of tools that will be used in classes and making it available to students and their guardians to access is a good approach. This list should also contain links to each tool’s respective privacy policies for parents to review.

Have a Plan in Place for Data Breaches

In these times, security breaches are inevitable; therefore, there must be a plan to prevent them to the greatest extent. A breach can have grave consequences, especially when the reason is unknown. To steer clear of such out-turns, work must be done as quickly as possible to contain the breach.

Inform the parents how they would be communicated to in case of any misuse or breach of personal information, in addition to providing a list of tools to be used during classes. They must know it will be from the school administration or the IT department. Also, the breakdown of steps that would be followed in case of such an event should be shared, like the student getting enrolled in an identity theft protection service.

Final Thoughts

Though schools are less often targeted than businesses, ensuring student data privacy is extremely crucial. Organizations operating in the education industry must ensure that student information is used and stored correctly. We hope these tips help schools and educators develop an effective security strategy to keep student data and other sensitive information safe from breaches and data theft.

For more info, see the Boom Learning downloadable white paper on privacy and security.