Data security is rising through the ranks as one of the most important aspects of the K-12 school system. As more administrators look for ways to safeguard student data, one tactic is taking the spotlight: data loss prevention.
In this blog, we’ll cover the basics of DLP strategy and highlight 10 best practices to follow when creating one for your school district.
What is data loss prevention?
Data loss prevention (DLP) — also known as data leakage or data loss protection — is defined as a series of capabilities that are designed to detect and prevent the unauthorized use of sensitive information.
In simpler terms, a DLP strategy is a branch of data security that focuses on restricting how users can access, use, and exchange certain types of information. The aim? To stop a data breach or leak from exposing sensitive data to the public.
Using DLP technology, an organization can safeguard all types of data movement, including:
- Data at rest: Information housed on digital storage in any form, including OneDrive or Google Drive.
- Data in motion: Data en route between two or more sources, such as when one user shares a document with another.
- Data in use: This refers to information that’s actively being updated, processed, or accessed.
But what’s the point of a DLP solution? Why is it necessary? Let’s consider the facts:
Firstly, the cost of a data breach is outrageous. IBM estimates the average cost of a single breach in the United States is $9.44 million — twice the world’s average. Simply put, that’s not a price your school can afford to pay, especially given how frequently hackers target the education sector.
To that point, K-12 districts are under constant threat. Cybercriminals are eyeing student data at an accelerating rate, challenging data protection and escaping with hordes of critical data.
Perhaps worst of all, data leakage is a disruption to student learning. Cyber attacks often take important systems offline for extended periods. In fact, the government estimates that learning loss after a data breach can last multiple weeks. Meanwhile, recovery can take up to nine months.
Use cases for DLP technology
There are many reasons why an organization or school district would develop a data loss prevention strategy. With the right DLP tool on your side, you can effectively do the following:
- Achieve data discovery: DLP software enhances your visibility, allowing you to continuously discover and classify sensitive data as it’s created and wherever it’s stored. It can also help you see who has access to critical data and how they use it.
- Prevent data loss: Whether it be an insider DLP risk or external threat, DLP technology helps you detect a potential leak and immediately jump into action.
- Enhance email security: A DLP solution can also monitor email applications to ensure sensitive information isn’t shared outside the district or with anyone who shouldn’t have access.
- Maintain regulatory compliance: Schools are beholden to strict data protection and privacy laws. Luckily, a DLP product allows you to simplify the effort and easily meet your legal requirements because you can manage data security in one pane of glass.
How does DLP security work?
Before diving into how a DLP strategy operates in practice, it’s important to know the basic DLP categories.
3 types of data loss prevention solutions
- Endpoint DLP: Hardware stores critical data, which is where an endpoint DLP solution comes into play. This type of tool monitors data irrespective of whether the device is connected to the network, thereby protecting data at rest.
- Network DLP: Sensitive information is most vulnerable when it’s in transit. Network DLP tools monitor data as it moves across the network, reporting on anomalies as they’re detected.
- Cloud DLP: Practically all K-12 schools operate in the cloud using Google Workspace, Microsoft 365, or a combination of the two. This DLP solution is a cloud security tool that specifically keeps an eye on data as it rests, moves, and is used in cloud applications.
How DLP strategy works
Three basic capabilities make data loss prevention tools so essential to data security:
- DLP policies: A DLP policy — better understood as a “rule” — dictates how the software monitors and protects your data. Each DLP policy consists of a condition and the action to be taken when that condition is met.In simple terms, a rule violation is triggered when a potential incident occurs. For instance, if a student sends personally identifiable information to a classmate, the DLP software locates the violation and notifies you with a detailed report. This includes information on which user is involved and what action they took.
- Pattern matching: This capability relies on content awareness and contextual analysis. In short, pattern matching involves evaluating an action’s contents to see if it violates a DLP policy. The system uses artificial intelligence to detect alphanumeric patterns representing sensitive information, such as a credit card or Social Security number.
- Fingerprinting: A DLP tool also maps data within files to text strings which act as fingerprints, allowing the system to identify sensitive data within forms and other documents.
10 best practices for creating a DLP strategy
According to Gartner, more than a third of all DLP implementations fail. Why? Because they don’t set themselves up for success.
- Start with the basics
Set your parameters. In other words, define what information needs to be safeguarded and identify where that sensitive data resides in your cloud domain. This is an important first step. With a clear definition of critical data, you and your security team can better focus on how to approach data protection.
- Define access control
Create access control lists that clearly identify which students, staff members, and vendors are authorized to access certain types of confidential data. Review these catalogs over time and cross-reference them with your DLP solution to ensure nobody’s manipulating resources they shouldn’t be touching.
- Allocate roles and responsibilities
Define incident response and remediation protocols for your security team members. In other words, choose a point-person responsible for creating policies and investigating risks.
- Know your vulnerabilities
Understand the root causes of data loss. The most common culprits include: malicious insider threats, cybercriminals, third-party vendors, and accidental data leaks. Need more information? Check out our guide on the top data security risks.
- Monitor your cloud domain
Keep a close eye on your sensitive data and how it’s being accessed, used, and shared by your users and vendors. Most districts lack cloud security, which leaves them vulnerable to cloud-based attacks and data leakage. Employ a cloud DLP tool that can automatically patrol your domain on your behalf.
- Fine-tune your DLP policy rules
What’s considered a threat today may not necessarily be one tomorrow. More importantly, there’s no telling what new tactics hackers will use to subvert your defenses. That’s why it’s a good idea to evaluate your policy regularly and make adjustments as new trends and vulnerabilities emerge. This keeps you ahead of the curve and allows you to proactively prevent data loss rather than reacting to incidents after the fact.
- Train employees on data security best practices
Ensure everyone with access to sensitive data knows their responsibilities and what to avoid when handling information. Students and staff should know how to spot scams online, avoid phishing attacks, and understand the consequences of a data breach. Not sure how to start? No worries. Try our list of data loss prevention best practices.
- Establish metrics you can use to measure progress
Decide how you’ll measure performance as you roll out a DLP solution. Once you have a baseline, compare future results to see how you’ve progressed. For example, you can compare the numbers of weekly risks identified to start your journey against many you discover down the road. This allows you to demonstrate success to your community and make improvements if necessary.
- Make continuous adjustments
No DLP strategy is perfect. It’s important to learn from your mistakes, gather feedback, and funnel these insights back into your cybersecurity policy. This ensures your district is constantly moving forward rather than taking steps in the wrong direction.
- Audit your cloud environment
Take a peek under the hood and get to know your domain better. After all, who knows what may be lurking in your district? There’s only one way to find out.
With ManagedMethods, you’ll know within minutes. Using our automated cloud security platform, we’ll audit your Google Workspace or Microsoft 365 domain and uncover any risks that may be shrouded in the darkness. Once we bring them to light, you can use our tool to prevent data loss and keep your students and staff members safe.