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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Keeping Student Data Secure in Education

As students and teachers alike are embracing online learning tools, a need for better internet security in schools is becoming more apparent. The recent report on tech adoption in education by the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) and the New Media Consortium (NMC), highlights this trend of hybrid learning models that “blend the best of classroom instruction with the best of Web-based delivery.” However, the report also points out that the safety of student data is considered a “difficult challenge” and “solutions are elusive.”

While internet security is a pervasive issue for all industries, schools deserve some extra attention. Along with the increased need for bandwidth to access online courses and tools, students and teachers are all too quick to share personal information through the internet. Schools need to carefully plan their network security in much the same way they plan their physical security. There has to be a good balance between access and security.

The solutions for balancing the security of student data with providing the right level of access required in today’s learning environment don’t have to be “elusive.” There is a full suite of solutions, such as network access controls or web filters, that are available at affordable prices and can offer the necessary protection for K-12 schools up through universities.

So what should you look for in a solution? Here are some good starting points:

  • URL Filtering – In 2013, 85% of malicious links used in web or email attacks were located on compromised legitimate websites. Controlling which websites can be accessed can limit the possibility of malware infecting your network.
  • Secure Data Transfer – An estimated 6% of all PCs will suffer at least one episode of data loss per year. 20% of all laptops suffer hardware related data loss in the first three years. A good IT strategy implements an off-site backup solution for important data. In an education environment, that would include student records. Securing this transfer of data is necessary as not only can the physical data be accessed but the transmissions of that data can also be intercepted.
  • Mobile Device Security – On average, network administrators are only aware of 80% of the devices on the network. In an educational setting, where nearly every student has a mobile device with the ability to connect to a local network, this figure is most assuredly much lower. Utilizing an agentless solution that discovers devices as soon as they access the network will protect vital information such as student records and institutional data while allowing the proper access necessary for the learning environment.
  • Bandwidth – With the inclusion of streaming media in today’s curriculum and the distribution of network resources across a geographically separated campus, load balancing bandwidth is essential to providing consistent access for both students and faculty
  • Efficient Configuration – School IT departments are minimally staffed. And often, the staff is simply challenged by time and resources just to maintain let alone implement and improve the network. Solutions that are easy to configure and maintain yet provide robust security features are a must.

Posted by: Gerald Kennedy
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