The Security of Education Data in a Post-Covid World

The security of education data is a growing threat, forcing many higher education institutions to evolve into smart campuses.  Educators are struggling to protect sensitive student data online.  According to ITRC’s 2021 Annual Data Breach Report, the number of data breaches in 2021 exceeded 2020 by 17%.

The problem is that much of the information they need to share with parents and students requires going outside the school’s secure network—to Google Docs, for example, or some other third-party application. And that makes it much easier for hackers to compromise systems.

However, it’s even worse than it sounds: Public school districts and community colleges have to deal with this problem and face a smaller budget and an increasingly complex data ecosystem.  The year 2020 brought many changes to the education industry, and the virtual classroom was no exception.

With schools shut down and students learning from home, we saw rapid adoption of a cloud-based educational model. The benefits of this model are numerous: Users benefit from a better experience, whereas institutions gain greater scalability and cost savings in a post-Covid world.  But with these new benefits comes a critical consideration for educators: How secure is education data?

Virtual learning brings new vulnerabilities

Schools worldwide are facing unprecedented attacks on their networks as remote learners and faculty tap into systems that were never designed to accommodate the amount of traffic they’re now experiencing.

In addition to the same phishing, ransomware, and other threats that have always existed for schools, remote learners now have to worry about being targeted through remote desktops and virtual private networks (VPN), as well as having their personally identifiable information (PII) compromised through weak identity verification protocols.

Remote learning has created a perfect storm for hackers to launch attacks on schools with new ease. And without the right automation security tools in place, IT departments will struggle to keep up with their growing attack surface, which can lead to breaches that cost time and money, not to mention the damage to the school’s reputation among students, parents, teachers, and the community.

Educational data is extremely attractive to hackers because it contains information such as financial records and social security numbers, which can be used to commit identity theft and fraud.

Video conferencing platforms expose students to a host of unwanted guests

Zoom’s video-call platform is a massive hit with schools and universities, yet many security flaws have been exposed.

A vulnerability in the widely used video conferencing platform Zoom was exploited by hackers controlling the systems of high school and university students who use the platform to share online sessions with their teachers or peers.

The group known as “Team Poison,” which is composed of “security researchers” and former employees of Cisco Systems, News Corp., and Microsoft, has spotted the problem.

Team Poison has since been testing a series of exploits, including one on May 9 that was reported to have affected more than 200,000,000 users worldwide. The exploit allowed Team Poison members to execute code on users’ computers without their knowledge or consent, allowing them to hijack control of the system.

To make matters worse for users, Team Poison’s report stated that Zoom itself was not vulnerable to attack until an update was applied on May 10—and even then, an attacker still had access to the system.

Further, 93% of educational organizations need days or even weeks to discover accidental data leakage in the cloud. These institutions are challenged when it comes to IT/security staffing, a lack of expertise in cloud security and a lack of budget for cybersecurity resources and tools.

FERPA empowers the Department of Education, and the Office of Civil Rights within it, to investigate breaches, which can lead to hefty fines

FERPA—the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act—is a federal law. That means it’s powerful, and it has teeth. It also protects the privacy of students’ personally identifiable information.

FERPA applies to any institution that stores student records, and it applies not just to digital breaches but also to paper ones. Any staff member who has access to student records must follow FERPA rules, including teachers, nurses, counselors, athletic directors, principals, superintendents, and board members.

In severe cases, FERPA violations can lead to the loss of all federal funding, which can be catastrophic for educational institutions.

Automation will help you improve security around education data

As the amount of education data grows, so do concerns around data security. 

Automating manual processes is one way to protect your district’s data better. Automation can help you transform paper-based processes—like managing student records and parent/guardian permissions—into a business process automation platform like ProcessMaker that makes it easier to track and manage your district’s information. 

By moving away from manual systems, you’ll be able to free up resources so your staff can spend more time on the work they’re best suited for and less time on tedious tasks like filling out forms by hand and tracking down signatures.

The other reason automation can help with security? It reduces mistakes because it eliminates the human element. We know that automation can’t prevent all human error. Still, it’s often human error—like taking too long to update a field in a database—leading to data breaches or other security issues. Automation helps reduce those errors, which means you’ll have fewer issues on your hands for your team to worry about.

Further, schools need an automated way to quickly reach out to their entire stakeholder community with one uniform message. Between email, SMS text messages and even phone calls, there are many ways that schools can reach their communities, but automation is key here in order to keep online education data safe.

Automation is the cybersecurity defense strategy of the future

It’s the only way to address today’s cybersecurity challenges. Inbound threats are growing in complexity and volume, while security teams are shrinking and budgets are being cut. It’s no wonder so many schools have realized that manual monitoring is a thing of the past.

It’s simple: By implementing automation into your security plan, you can improve your ability to monitor for anomalous activities and potential attacks. Over time, it can even learn to identify patterns in attackers’ behavior and shut down attacks before they gain a foothold.

When looking at a current security plan and budget, it’s easy to see how much time is spent manually monitoring systems, digging into logs, and responding to alerts. Automation can take care of all that—and more. By implementing automation into your security plan, you can improve your ability to monitor anomalous activities and potential attacks.

Here are three ways business process automation can help:

  1. It allows you to monitor more data at once. Create alerts that automatically send notifications if they detect something suspicious, like unusual activity in the middle of the day or an attempt to access the system from an unknown IP address.
  2. You can automate response to a detected problem or attack. For instance, set up automatic email notifications that alert the right security personnel whenever an alert goes off. They can then take appropriate action as quickly as possible.
  3. Automation also helps with compliance and reporting requirements by automatically collecting information from multiple systems and creating reports for review by executives on-demand at any time. There’s no need for manual work like downloading logs manually from each system every week to check their status—you’ll have easy access to all of this information with one click.

It’s time to stop letting manual processes bog down education data.

To summarize

Automation is not a choice—it’s a requirement.   The benefits are just too good to pass up. 

Imagine having the capacity to scale up your education data protection without having to hire more staff or being able to ensure that all of your security organizing is consistently documented with the click of one button.  It can actually help you see signs of trouble before they occur, giving you time to correct anything that goes wrong. And with automation, you can even set up a backup plan in case of catastrophic failure.  As a result, your school is more secure, and more effective when it comes to dealing with cyber threats.

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The Security of Education Data in a Post-Covid World

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