Data breaches are increasing as the cybercriminals are using sophisticated weapons to gain unauthorised access to records. And this is happening across all industries, including the education industry. This industry is also lucrative for hackers because of the sheer volume of data that exists. Millions of students, faculty and non-teaching staff are associated with the industry.
As per a report from the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) a USA NGO, in 2018, there were 76 instances of education data breaches that exposed 1,408,670 records. A major reason for the vulnerability of the education sector is that very few institutions emphasise on having robust IT systems in place and also a slightly open culture. According to the Imperva 2019 Cyberthreat Defense Report, around 80% of the respondents from educational institutions reported successful cyberattacks.
In this article, we will discuss some of the key components in having a robust security policy in the education industry.
Managing passwords is crucial to prevent any data breach. Hackers usually take advantage of weak passwords of employees to gain access to the backend database. To prevent this from happening, institutions must have a robust password policy that will require the staff to have passwords that follow global best practices. It should be part of the overall IT policy that must be drafted for the institution.
There are be policies in place to prevent the transfer of password among employees. If there are too many software to handle, the employees can take the help of a manager. The password manager can devise passwords that cannot be easily guessed and prevent brute force attacks. Employees must also stay away from phishing emails and as a matter of policy, not open emails coming from unknown sources or personal email ids.
Web and email security
The educational institutions contain numerous student records, and a data breach must be avoided anyhow. Webmasters need to ensure foolproof security and ensure that no one can breach the systems. It becomes crucial to encrypt the communication within the network and with the other stakeholders too.
You must procure SSL/ TLS certificates that will encrypt the interaction between the two parties. For example, if a student enters data through the website, it must be ensured that the communication between the web browser of the student and the server of the institution is encrypted. It will prevent any third-party from having unauthorised access to the information.
GeoTrust SSL certificates can be procured easily over the internet and will come within your budget. The data that are exchanged online that must done in an encrypted language so that no outsider can misuse it and for that SSL security must require to install in your website.
Monitoring the networks properly
Very few educational institutions have an IT team of their own. However, it is crucial to have an IT expert overlooking the overall network setup as it is essential to ensure security. Network security starts from having robust security protocols in place with people having no access to the network from their handheld devices. They must use their desktops to have access to the network of the institute.
The network should also be accessed only by authorised personnel with their login credentials. The system should also have an antivirus software bundled with a firewall that will prevent any outsider from having access to the networks as well as prevent any malware from entering the system. Trained IT personnel can monitor the network and assess any affected assets within the network that need to be checked further.
Have proactive controls
The networks must be monitored proactively to check any vulnerabilities and have proper controls in place to detect attacks. An intrusion prevention system along with vulnerability management and data loss prevention. You must prevent keylogging too by having anti-keylogging software or keyword encryption software. Your IT policy must also block all ports at the desktop terminals and servers as an added precaution. All access to the system must be done through a virtual keyboard.
The IT team must ensure that all the software across the network is updated with the latest upgrades. It is essential to prevent any backdated software within the network as it could lead to vulnerabilities in the system. Detection of possible attacks is also necessary, and you need to have periodic IT audits that will bring forth any incidents of forced access or unauthorised access to the network. These assets can be quarantined and checked for any data breach.
Training in security awareness
The employees in the institution may not be having proper knowledge about the possible attacks that may occur. It is vital to organise periodic training to improve their awareness of system security. It starts by having a password that follows global best practices and also teach about phishing emails. These emails are a significant source of a data breach, and employees must be able to distinguish between a genuine email and one from fraudsters.
The training must include portions from the IT policy and how what processes to follow within the network. Given that most data breaches are a result of unintentional activities by the employees and teachers, it is essential to have a full training session with all of them.
Manage vendors professionally
Before you onboard vendors for managing your network, you must do a proper background check. Please request for references and then discuss with them about their experiences with the vendor. While finalising the discussions with the vendor, you must enquire whether there were any security issues with the software earlier. If yes, how did they address the problem? Also, check whether they stay abreast with the technological advancements.
You must also check about their privacy policies and always enter into a Non-Disclosure Agreement along with the contract. The background of the employees that are deployed on your premises must also be checked. It is essential to conduct their interviews with your IT team to test their competency.
Various vendors provide their services for a few months for free. You should not fall for them as you are not their client unless you are paying for them.
The education industry is a storehouse of enormous data that makes it a target of cyberattacks. Moreover, most of them do not have robust networks to prevent such attacks. We have discussed some of the steps you need to take to prevent data breaches in the education industry. Educational institutions must procure an SSL certificate to encrypt their communication. You can visit ClickSSL to purchase the SSL certificate that will play the perfect encryption role for you and leave your customers assured of the security of their essential information, such as their credit card details.
Educational institutions must deploy experienced IT personnel at the helm of affairs. A robust IT policy, along with stringent monitoring of networks and robust password management, is needed.