As seen on eSchool News

3 keys to protecting student data and privacy

How do educators ensure that they keep student data, records, and personal information private and secure?
By Ben Pierce, Director of Data Services, Xello
April 29th, 2021

How do educators ensure that they keep student data, records, and personal information private and secure?

When the sixth-largest school district in the United States announced in early April that hackers were holding its data ransom for $40 million, administrators everywhere paid attention.

The Fort Lauderdale-area district has 232 schools and a budget of $2.6 billion for the 2020-21 school year—seemingly, the district has plenty of resources to protect against cyberattacks. It also has thousands of students and staff who use hundreds of applications and technologies each day.

How do educators ensure that they keep students’ data, records, and personal information private and secure? And, on the flip side, how do they ensure that the integration with other systems remains seamless, so student data is always up to date, accurate, and accessible to teachers, students, parents, and district officials?

3 considerations for securing student data

1. Security

State and federal data privacy laws apply to school districts along with the vendors who supply hardware and software to them.  But as educators, you need to ensure that their systems go beyond being legally compliant. You must work with companies to prepare for vulnerabilities and threats long before they occur.

Make sure your partners have rock-solid privacy protocols and breach prevention controls at all levels of the company. Ask if they have regular security awareness training and how often they review their privacy policies. Make sure that all the prevention controls they offer–including automatic backups, firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and third-party vulnerability scans and assessments–are activated and working as they should.

It’s also important to be aware of new updates and releases of technology. Sometimes even browser upgrades come with potential vulnerabilities. These can usually be fixed quickly once they are identified–and having a dedicated team in place to keep up with these patches can save you from a potential security incident.

2. Accuracy

Students’ scholastic success depends on the accuracy of their data. Errors in assessments and out-of-sync work creates frustration and confusion – and interrupts students’ progress. Inaccurate information also prevents educators from seeing the true picture of students’ successes and challenges, which can prevent students from getting the support they need.

Your technology partners should have a strong privacy policy and controls to restrict access to as few people as possible. Look for the phrase “principle of least privilege.” This is the difference between inviting a hundred strangers to a party or only inviting a handful of people you trust.

Your partners’ systems should all integrate seamlessly and automatically with your student information systems. This ensures that student data reflects the most recent and relevant work, not a draft file from five days ago. The key to achieving this is parallel processing. Look for a provider that can conduct daily data integrations that are shared across multiple servers in a distributed environment.

3. Availability

All systems might occasionally shut down. These can range from small interruptions to complete outages. Therefore, it’s crucial to make sure your information is backed up to protect you from temporary hassles as well as data loss.

Best practices for backup and recovery include utilizing distributed servers (to ensure that no single server represents a single point of failure). Your technology partners should work with you to establish a disaster recovery plan that’s focused on restoring the system and the information in a timely manner.

Your student data is both a means for learning and a resource for measuring success. Protecting your technological world, no matter its size or complexity, will give you peace of mind the next time you hear about a major breach that impacts an educational institution.

About the Author:

Ben Pierce is the Director of Data Services for Xello.

Our 250+ Clients Include