How to ensure data security in schools

How to ensure data security in schools

Classroom technology is a powerful learning tool, but it comes with risks. At least 66% of K-12 teachers are now using tech in the classroom on a daily basis (according to the University of Phoenix 2017 study into classroom habits) creating a significant risk to student data privacy. With devices and educational software quickly becoming a necessity, data privacy and cybersecurity need to become top priorities.

So, what can you do as a digitally aware school leader to ensure the safety of your staff and students? Let’s have a look at some of the key risks that schools face in the cybersecurity sphere and how they can be tackled.


Data security challenges in schools

Data security is a challenge for all modern organizations, but schools are particularly vulnerable to breaches. In many cases, this is due to a combination of low funding, small IT departments and the amount of sensitive information school district networks house. Everything from credit card numbers, social security data, and even medical details are stored in district databases making a data hack very damaging for those involved. 



Correspondingly the Verizon’s 2017 Data Breach Investigations Report, found that the number of total security incidents in the education sector outranked both healthcare and retail. 

The fact that school’s main tech users are young people, also makes the task of cybersecurity more demanding. Students who interact with internet-enabled devices are exposed to online safety risks, such as:

  • Contact from inappropriate parties who may wish to abuse, exploit or bully students.
  • Potential exposure to sexually explicit, violent, racist or extremist content.
  • Harmful online behavior practiced by students themselves.


7 strategies to improve cybersecurity in the classroom

It’s important not to underestimate the threats to both student and staff safety posed by data-related risks. Fortunately, there are many proactive steps that school administrators and district authorities can take to improve cybersecurity. 


1. Security awareness

Human users remain the weakest link in all cybersecurity plans. Equipping everyone from your teaching staff and IT specialists to students and parents with the latest knowledge and awareness goes a long way to reducing this risk. 

Ensure that your IT staff have regular refreshes regarding the latest policies, procedures, and compliance regulations to make sure they remain up to date. Teachers should also be kept in the loop and have basic digital safety and the importance of compliance explained to them.

Furthermore, educating staff, students and parents on the 9 pillars of digital citizenship can help to create a safe digital environment for everyone. Aspects of this model, such as online safety awareness, password protection, and appropriate usage give everyone the tools to be safe online and act as an important frontline against the majority of cybersecurity threats.



2. Create firm policies and guidelines to be followed

Formulating a clear and logical set of policies and guidelines is one of the first steps to ensuring data safety. This policy should be thorough and take into account the realities of how devices and software are used in the school. 

It should also outline exactly who is responsible for what and where accountability lies. This creates awareness at all stages of technology use and prevents it simply becoming an administration issue. Policies should also be backed up by close monitoring of how devices are used by staff and students.

Guidelines and policies are your only protection from a “socially engineered” breach. The most common method of gaining unauthorized access to user data is still simply asking for it. Make sure every staff member knows how to verify external requests for access to any student data.


3. Protect sensitive data

Where possible prevent access to sensitive data by enshrining administrative privileges and regularly evaluating them. Multi-factor authentication for devices should also be used to prevent adversaries from gaining access to systems where data may be stored. 

Perform regular backups of all critical information to limit the impact of a data breach. Ideally, backups should be daily and any information stored for at least three months. 


4. Check third party providers

All third party apps, chrome extensions or other software should be thoroughly vetted before being downloaded by anyone. The data privacy standards of all third parties should be at least as stringent as the schools own policies, as a basic standard. Common Sense Education is a great place to check out how educational tech ranks in terms of privacy. Checking adherence to COPPA and the Student Privacy Pledge also provide a good standard to measure how safe apps are.



5. Regularly update your content filters

Content filters are a practical defense against sites that contain malicious material and or pose a data breach threat. For example preventing access to: 


  • Spam sites which can lead to malware or other malicious software being installed onto school computers.
  • Sites showing inappropriate content.
  • Hate pages or sites with violent content.
  • Social networking sites may reduce classroom productivity or make actions such as online bullying harder to prevent.

Content filters are usually implemented as part of internet firewalls, but can be installed as either hardware or software. Remember that these systems need to be updated constantly as tech-savvy students are capable of creating new ways to circumnavigate filters with incredible speed.


6. Updates and patch management

School administrators should know precisely what software and hardware is being used on networks at all times. With this knowledge, you can ensure that configuration changes are authorized, documented and implemented appropriately. This is essential as updates contain improved security fixes and defenses that have been identified by the product creators. Un-updated software is very vulnerable to hacks, so any new releases should be installed quickly.


7. Don’t forget physical security

Robust cyber defenses are all well and good, but if your hardware is stolen, sensitive data is very vulnerable to physical hacking. 

Make sure that all devices and relevant hard drives, routers, and servers are secured. Limiting the number of staff with access and keeping a firm grip on the whereabouts of keys ensures maximum protection. Take particular care to protect equipment during the holidays when thieves know that the premises are empty. 


Stringent data protection is essential to get the most out of edtech in the classroom. At Kami we firmly believe that online safety and student data protection should be a central part of our service, so you can use our digital pen and paper with confidence.

Learn more about how Kami could help you to create an engaging and collaborative learning environment today.   

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