Safety First: How Teachers and Schools Can Protect Students' Vulnerable Data

We've all seen it happen. The recent Equifax data breach that led to exposing sensitive information about over 143 million Americans has people more scared than ever about the way institutions are handling their confidential information. People are rightfully skeptical about where their information goes and how safe it really is.

This ups the pressure for everyone – educational institutions included. As hackers are finding smarter ways to crack even the most ironclad institutions, everyone everywhere needs to improve their standards to avoid becoming a target. It’s never wise to assume that your data isn’t worthwhile to a thief, and you don’t want to find yourself surprised when it’s too late to do anything about it.

Limit What You Keep

The best thing you can do to protect your student's’ data is to not keep too much of it. If you ever do encounter suspicious activity or a full on breach, the amount of data that can potentially be compromised is much lower. Remove old data from online storage. If you need to keep previous records, use external storage that is not connected to the internet.

The things you do keep should be limited strictly to what you need in order to run school on a daily basis. Make sure your students are aware of what you’re storing, as well as your reasons for storing it. Consent is just as important as protecting your data, and you don’t want to find out after an incident has occurred that your students were never aware that you were storing certain kinds of information.

Protect Electronic Devices

Nobody likes updating their antivirus or antimalware software , especially because those updates seem to be obnoxiously constant. The reason there are so many of these updates is that the software developers who take your privacy very seriously address threats as they come. If a new threat emerges every day and the developer has found a way to counter that threat, they’ll release an update as soon as they can.

Make sure all computers on campus are set to automatically update daily. Pick a time where computers are least likely to be in use, such as late at night or very early in the morning. Allow updates to run as frequently as they need to. It might be a slight inconvenience, but nothing is more inconvenient than having your security compromised.

Build a Strong IT Team

IT professionals are the greatest watchdogs against vulnerabilities and emerging threats. Every educational institution needs a superior IT team. These professionals are trained to spot potential vulnerabilities and fix them faster than malicious people or bots can find them. While they’re also handy to have around when things aren’t working the way they should, they are indispensable when it comes to keeping you safe.

Be Cautious With Connections and Sharing

A certain amount of vulnerability comes with the way that data is transmitted. Most schools use open WiFi as a resource for their students and staff. The only issue with open WiFi is that anyone can connect through it, and you don’t always know what the intentions of others are. Always use secure connections for transmitting any data that may be sensitive on campus.

Another area to explore is sharing. Many computers on school networks are set to share a certain amount of information, such as links to printers or external devices that students and educators may need to use. Make sure sharing isn’t turned on for more than what is absolutely necessary. If documents containing sensitive information are saved on those computers, they could easily be intercepted without anyone’s knowledge.

Talk To Your Students About Cyber Safety

Your students could be putting their own information at risk and be none the wiser. Security is an ongoing conversation. Make sure passwords are difficult to guess and routinely changed. You also need your students to understand that email attachments aren’t always what they appear to be, and phishing emails routinely deceive people who don’t understand how to spot them.

You need to encourage your students to speak up if they encounter something that seems abnormal. The more eyes you have on the situation, the less likely its nuances are to slip through the cracks. Even if what appears to be a security abnormality turns out to be nothing of consequence, people are still making the right choice to point things out.

At a time where it’s almost impossible to be too careful with data, any security measure you choose to implement will likely make data safer for your entire educational institution. Remain vigilant, and never assume you aren’t at risk.

Sienna Walker is an avid traveler, a staunch supporter of constant self-improvement and an education and careers blogger. With her unquenchable love for writing, Sienna is currently supporting Director Stats and often shares her suggestions and tips with young people about the enter the workforce.