Cloud security best practices: A summer school district to-do list

With summer break upon us, it’s just about time to punch your ticket and take a vacation. But before you do — or even after you return — be sure you take the time to revisit cloud data security.

Why? Because even when students are away, class is still in session. In other words, summer is a great opportunity to learn more about protecting sensitive data in the cloud. That’s why we’ve put together this blog to guide you through all you need to know about strengthening your cloud security over summer break.

From the risks that threaten your cloud data to the trends you may have missed, it’s important to understand exactly what you’re up against. Let’s walk through the basic cyber threats and the security best practices you’ll need to defeat them.

New to cloud security? Let’s get you up to speed

If the relationship between cloud computing and data security has left you scratching your head, don’t worry — you’re not alone. In fact, many school districts still haven’t come to terms with the reality of their new cloud infrastructure.

The truth is that over 90% of school districts are now taking advantage of cloud computing, per Edweek. Cloud providers like Google and Microsoft are leading this charge and equipping schools with a vast portfolio of cloud services. From administrative work to classroom management to remote learning, schools are making the most of their new technologies.

But the problem with cloud adoption? School districts aren’t equipped with the necessary security measures to safeguard sensitive data in their cloud environment. According to Edweek, just 20% of school cybersecurity budgets are being allocated to protecting cloud data.

With more information being put into cloud storage, this gap represents a major security risk — especially when you consider the many risks that put your data in jeopardy.

External risks

The internet is jam-packed with cyber threats that are targeting your school’s sensitive data. Here’s a rundown of the most pressing you need to know:

  • Phishing scams: Scammers impersonate reputable sources to obtain personal information from their victims, most commonly through email. They use this information to steal passwords, login credentials, and other data that could lead to a larger, more damaging incident.
  • Malware: Hackers inject malicious code into attachments or links and infect your cloud environment with a virus. This attack is used to infiltrate your cloud storage, steal sensitive data, and hold it ransom over your district.
  • Account takeovers: If a hacker obtains access to your cloud infrastructure, such as through a student’s Google cloud account, they can exfiltrate information from anywhere in the world. Without cloud security, this attack is extremely difficult for your security team to detect.

Internal risks

Students and staff members are human. It’s likely they’ll make a mistake at some point that leads to a major security risk for your school district. In fact, 84% of accidental data leaks are caused by staff members, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Here are the most common internal threats to be aware of:

  • File sharing: Students and staff might share sensitive data outside the district unknowingly. If a file is accidentally shared with an unintended recipient, they could expose personal information about themselves or others.
  • Third-party apps: When you use a cloud application, you trust it with your cloud data. But if the cloud provider has a weak security policy, they could be breached by a hacker or leak your data themselves.
  • File content: Mental health, cyberbullying and other student safety signals are an underestimated security risk. Text, image, and other content in your cloud environment might indicate signs of distress that could lead to self-harm or violence.


5 cloud trends you need to know about

When it comes to data protection, it’s always best to stay ahead of the curve. By familiarizing your security team with the trending cyber threats, topics, and themes, your district can better prepare its security measures for the upcoming year.

Let’s take a closer look at five the most important cloud deployment trends you need to consider by the end of summer break.

1. Cloud computing on the rise

When you take into account the vast benefits of cloud services, it’s no wonder that cloud adoption will only continue in 2022. According to Flexera’s latest State of the Cloud report, organizations of all sizes and industries are increasing their spending on cloud providers, especially public cloud services like Google Workspace or Microsoft 365.

What does that mean for you? If your school district is continuing to invest in its cloud environment, it means your attack surface is widening even further. In essence, your district will be more exposed to cyber threats and other risks — necessitating the addition of proper cloud security practices.

2. Security teams are stretched thin

It’s difficult to staff a skilled security team for massive organizations, let alone a small school district. Today’s school districts are being forced to maintain pace with an increasingly sophisticated security threat, without the enterprise-grade tools to get the job done. If schools want to get a handle on their cloud data security, they’ll need to invest in a force-multiplying solution.

3. Security compliance will soon change

In October 2021, President Joe Biden signed into law the K-12 Cybersecurity Act. This new legislation enabled the Department of Homeland Security to conduct research into cyber threats in K-12 education, who will soon release their findings and a set of guidelines that school districts will be required to follow.

It’s important that districts take the proper steps to implement safeguards and security measures that will help them maintain security compliance in the face of their new legislative requirements.

4. Cyber attacks are on the rise

According to research from SonicWall, cyber threats of nearly all types are increasing at breakneck speed. Ransomware, for example, has increased 232% since 2019. With the rate of attack accelerating, it’s only logical that school districts close their data protection gap and identify an adequate cloud platform.

5. Mental health is a growing concern

Although not directly related to data security or the cloud, student mental health is becoming an exceptionally important topic of discussion. According to Mental Health America, the number of youth (aged 12-17) who experienced at least one major depressive episode increased by 306,000 since 2020.

Students who are suffering from poor mental health may be discussing their experiences or leaving indications in school-provided cloud services. In the upcoming school year, it’ll be important for districts to identify student safety risks so that they can help students receive the support they need. If a risk goes undetected, it could put a student’s well-being in jeopardy.

Best practices: How to you can improve cloud security over summer break

The most effective way to mitigate the threats and trends outlined above is by implementing cloud security best practices wherever possible. To help you prepare for when class is back in session, here are the most impactful security practices you can use to improve data protection in your district:

Identify sensitive data

If you want to protect your cloud data, you need to know which types of information are most in need of security. Classifying your data by sensitivity (i.e. by how damaging that data could be if it were exposed) not only improves access management but also helps you allocate your resources efficiently. Simply put, knowing where to divert your attention is a great way to ensure nothing slips through the cracks.

Erase old files that occupy storage space

If you have old Google Drive or OneDrive files occupying a lot of space in cloud storage, it’s best to cycle through and erase any that aren’t worth saving. After all, data can’t be accessed by a hacker if it’s nowhere to be found in your cloud storage. Plus, with Google storage limits quickly decreasing, it’s important to purge your cloud of any unnecessary data.

Vet your list of approved third-party vendors

It’s best to vet your list of approved cloud providers and remove any cloud application that doesn’t belong. Be sure to also check each vendor’s security and privacy statement to understand how they use student data. If their security policy doesn’t pass the sniff test, you should remove them from your cloud environment.

Discover malicious cloud usage

Monitor your cloud infrastructure for signs of anomalous behavior. Look for possibly malicious actions, such as unusual downloading, file sharing, and communication. This could be a sign that an account takeover has taken place and that credentials have been compromised.

Review access controls

Cloud services have a security control capability that allows you to determine who can access certain applications, files, and other resources. Make sure that students don’t have access to any critical cloud application that should be reserved for staff.

Set policies for data sharing

Data sharing is often the cause of accidental data leaks. That’s why it’s important to enforce who can share certain types of files and who can’t. The permissions of a teacher, for example, shouldn’t be the same as those of a student. Setting a proper data sharing security policy can help prevent sensitive data from exiting your school district without authorization.

Automate remediation

As previously mentioned, security teams are stretched thin these days. Some school districts might only have one resource officer on staff dedicated to data security. That’s why it’s critical to protect your cloud infrastructure through automation.

Automated tools can be used to streamline policy enforcement and risk mitigation. For example, when an email containing sensitive data is sent outside the district a cloud security platform can rapidly detect and remedy the risk based on predetermined actions.


The advantages of cloud DLP

The security best practices above are helpful tips that can be used throughout the school year. However, they can also be a lot for a small security team to handle on a regular basis. Fortunately, there’s a solution that can streamline all of those tasks through one comprehensive platform.

A cloud data loss prevention (DLP) platform is a cloud-based software that uses a process of detecting and preventing data breaches, leaks and other incidents. In short, cloud DLP is all about making sure your cloud data stays where it’s meant to be — in the cloud.

This type of cloud security platform is uniquely equipped with a series of tools and capabilities that are ideal for a school’s cloud environment:

  • Automated enforcement: Cloud DLP solutions use a security policy system to essentially patrol your cloud infrastructure and detect violations as they occur. Policies act as rules that dictate how your cloud data can be used, accessed, and shared. When a rule violation is identified, the system automatically initiates a predetermined remediation process.
  • Data classification: Another critical capability of cloud DLP platforms is their ability to automatically recognize and classify data by sensitivity so that you don’t have to. By classifying data automatically, you can rest assured that the proper protections are put into place and all sensitive data is tightly guarded.
  • Risk identification: Cloud security platforms are adept at identifying anomalous behavior that could indicate a malicious security risk. Streamlining risk identification is key to tackling a threat before it spirals out of control.
  • Content scanning: A quality cloud platform uses artificial intelligence to scan cloud-based content for policy violations.
  • Student safety monitoring: DLP solutions can even detect signs of cyberbullying, self-harm, and student violence, allowing you to investigate incidents as needed.

But not all cloud security platforms are built the same. Your district needs a solution that is designed to be used in a school environment. That’s why ManagedMethods uses deep 1:1 integrations with both Google Workspace and Microsoft 365. Whether you use one, the other, or a combination of both, you can monitor your entire cloud infrastructure from a single platform.

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