How one Manitoba school division improved Google Workspace for Education monitoring with Cloud Monitor
Hanover School Division is the eighth largest division in Manitoba. Located in Steinbach, Manitoba, Hanover serves nine communities and approximately 8,000 students in 19 schools.
Chris MacKinnon is the Director of Technology Services, responsible for leading a group of 10 IT professionals ranging from service desk and desktop support to technology operations, including server, storage, and data security management. He is ultimately responsible for all of the core infrastructure, cloud services, end-user devices, and educational technology products for the division.
Hanover School Division is 1:1 for all students grades 9 and up and provides devices to K-8 classrooms. MacKinnon and his team began moving the division from Microsoft on-prem Exchange and Office software to Google for Education around 2015.
“Cloud Monitor enhances our set of tools and fits very nicely into our multi-layered cybersecurity and safety approach. It allows us to gain better visibility into the content of data stored in our Google environment. But, more importantly, it allows us to automate some of the remediation and take the workload off of my staff.”
— Chris MacKinnon, Director of Technology Services
At the time, they were at 5:1 students to computers when the superintendent mandated a technology upgrade to help future-proof division operations and student learning. What they needed was an all-inclusive solution that would allow for collaboration between staff and students.
“Google was the right fit for us at the time, and it still is today. COVID-19 proved that for us,” says MacKinnon.
MacKinnon is the type of IT leader that takes his division’s cybersecurity and safety very seriously. To ensure he has as much of his information systems covered as possible, he builds redundancies by taking a multi-layered approach to security and safety. His multi-layered cybersecurity and safety stack includes, among other things, Google Workspace Education Plus, CloudLock, and GoGuardian.
While MacKinnon and his ops team were happy with their tool stack, they are always looking for new solutions.
“We continually look to learn about new solutions. That is one way we stay on top of solving problems that we do not know even exist! I cannot say that we had a specific challenge or pain point when we first learned about Cloud Monitor,” MacKinnon recalls. “But when we first saw it, we were impressed by the deeper level of visibility and control the platform provides. We also really liked its easy and intuitive UI.”
“Cloud Monitor enhances our set of tools and fits very nicely into our multi-layered cybersecurity and safety approach,” says MacKinnon. “It allows us to gain better visibility into the content of data stored in our Google environment. But, more importantly, it allows us to automate some of the remediation and take the workload off of my staff.”
When it comes to student cyber safety monitoring in Google Workspace, MacKinnon and his team find that Cloud Monitor enhances GoGuardian in many ways. First, Cloud Monitor provides greater visibility into what is stored in Google Drive and Shared Drives.
“GoGuardian and Cloud Monitor are two very different products. GoGuardian is primarily a web content filter that helps keep our students safe when the devices go home,” MacKinnon explains. “Cloud Monitor provides a 100% snapshot of what is in every student’s Google file structure, chats, etc. It could’ve happened a day, a week, or a month ago. It’s a whole lot deeper, and it’s a lot more visibility. Security and safety tools are tough to put a value on, particularly when you’re working with a tight budget. But if we can protect one student, it pays for itself.”
Google Chat is another area that Cloud Monitor was able to provide visibility into. It was an area between both GoGuardian and Google Workspace Plus that MacKinnon and his team were missing without fully realizing it.
“We struggled with Google Chat at first. When we went remote during the pandemic, we wanted our students to be able to continue to engage with each other. We figured that if we could support that with a degree of supervision, we could provide a safe environment for them to interact with their friends and peers,”
Using Cloud Monitor, MacKinnon can set up alerts to let him know if there are troubling conversations happening in Chat and other Google apps including Gmail, Docs, and Slides. The platform’s Safety Signals uses artificial intelligence to detect potential risks such as self-harm, cyberbullying, threats of violence, and explicit content. MacKinnon can also quickly and easily download the Chat text using Cloud Monitor to send it to a principal investigating an issue.
“Ignorance can’t be a security policy. I’d love to see more school divisions get on board with tools like Cloud Monitor. What we’re paying, compared to other products in our stack, is significantly less. When you consider that the cost of a security breach can be five, ten, even 20 times the cost of the tools you need to protect your schools, it’s almost invaluable to have this type of insight.”
— Chris MacKinnon, Director of Technology Services
On the cybersecurity side of things, MacKinnon found Cloud Monitor to be much easier and faster to use compared to many of the advanced security features available in Google Workspace Plus and CloudLock.
Hanover has been a Google Workspace for Education Plus customer since 2019. They definitely wanted the advanced security and investigation features that it provides. Then, when Google rolled out upgraded Meet features during COVID-19, they liked the advanced features and wanted to retain them going forward.
But, there are some usability and capability gaps in the Plus edition that Cloud Monitor covers.
“Even with Google Workspace Plus, I can’t produce a quick report from Admin Console on anything. Cloud Monitor saves my team time and effort because we’re able to produce a number of reports quickly.”
Cloud Monitor’s deep integrations and capabilities in Drive and Shared Drives is another benefit for MacKinnon and his team.
“A lot of the value that we experience in Cloud Monitor is around its ease of use and interface. For example, we can use Google’s Investigation Tool in Admin Console, but many tasks are difficult and time-consuming to accomplish,” says MacKinnon. “We can typically accomplish the same thing using ManagedMethods in minutes. I can’t say that we’re saving time per se because we’re doing a lot more now. But we’re able to get much more accomplished in that amount of time.”
Cloud Monitor has also helped MacKinnon’s team catch data loss prevention issues that threaten financial information and personal data. For example, staff sharing credit card numbers and other sensitive information being shared in ways it shouldn’t be.
“The great part about Cloud Monitor is that it ties directly into Google using APIs. This means that no data is traveling through the platform and back again, so we don’t have to worry about data use compliance.”
Currently, MacKinnon has several automated policies set up in Cloud Monitor to send alerts when a potential risk needs further investigation. These policies include suspicious login locations, malware reporting, improper sharing of credit cards, passports, driver’s licenses, improperly hosted movie files in their Drive, self-harm, and unapproved VPN apps.
“We’re continuing to learn more about what it can do and what we can automate. Currently, many of our policies are simply set up to report the issue to me. As we see stuff come in, we can start to set our internal policies around how to handle different incidents, and then start to automate more. Creating and managing these policies is easy to do, and is another thing that sets Cloud Monitor apart from other competitors in the space.”
The fact that cybercriminals are targeting K-12 can no longer be ignored. When budget and resources are tight, it’s often easier to ignore the issues than address them. But MacKinnon encourages other school IT leaders to address the challenge.
“Ignorance can’t be a security policy. I’d love to see more school divisions get on board with tools like Cloud Monitor,” says MacKinnon. “What we’re paying, compared to other products in our stack, is significantly less. When you consider that the cost of a security breach can be five, ten, even 20 times the cost of the tools you need to protect your schools, it’s invaluable to have this type of insight.”