What’s great about the U.S. school system is its ability to innovate. Time after time, educators have found new ways to blend technology into the classroom experience.
And, that’s exactly what happened when school districts embraced cloud computing. What began as a gentle stroll accelerated into a full-on sprint when the pandemic necessitated online learning. Now, more than 9 in 10 K-12 schools operate in the cloud.
Microsoft 365 – or, as it’s more commonly called, Microsoft Office or Office 365 – is one of the most popular cloud solutions on the market. With its comprehensive suite of tools, including Microsoft Teams and Sharepoint Online, it’s a major asset to all users (students and staff members alike).
But, with so much confidential data in the cloud, all your eggs are in one basket. How can you be sure your students’ sensitive information is safe from unauthorized access?
Fortunately, there’s a solution: data loss prevention (DLP). With a well-crafted DLP policy, you can rest assured your cloud environment’s data security is up for the challenge.
Let’s take a closer look at Office 365 DLP and everything you need to know about Microsoft cloud app security.
Data loss prevention in Microsoft 365
To help wrap your mind around Office 365 DLP, let’s unpack the term “DLP” a little further.
The importance of K-12 data security
DLP boils down to one key idea: data protection. In other words, it’s all about keeping a watchful eye over your district’s sensitive information and ensuring that it doesn’t fall victim to a data leak or cyberattack. Not only would that violate industry regulations, but it also puts student safety at risk.
Why? Because there’s no telling how someone might use sensitive data once it’s in their possession. Think about what’s likely floating around your district’s OneDrive account. Confidential data could include:
- Financial data
- Academic records
- Student schedules
- Medical information
- Personally identifiable information
- Home addresses and telephone numbers
Of course, that’s just scratching the surface. Believe it or not, students frequently use cloud apps to document their thoughts and feelings and chat with friends about their lives. These entries often contain sensitive info, whether intimate details about home life or evidence of bullying, self-harm, or suicidal ideation.
Moreover, sensitive content can even include graphic images of underage students. In other words, they may be sexting over the cloud. That means child pornography could be located on school-provided devices and cloud applications.
Suddenly, financial data seems to be the least of your worries. With sensitive items as dangerous as these potentially lurking somewhere in Microsoft Office, a single data leak could throw your school into a tailspin. Even worse, it’d surely devastate your users and their loved ones.
Advantages of Office 365 DLP
The dire need for information protection is compounded by the incessant hoard of cybercriminals targeting student data. According to government data, K-12 cyber threats tripled during the pandemic.
Fortunately, with Microsoft 365 DLP, you can get a leg up on the opposition:
- Optimized Microsoft cloud app security: Deeply integrated DLP software enables your data protection efforts to perform at their best.
- Automated threat detection: A DLP tool scans your cloud apps for risk and allows you to focus on other tasks.
- 24/7 monitoring: Always-on visibility allows you to mitigate risks as quickly as possible.
How does data loss prevention work in Microsoft 365?
In contrast to endpoint data loss prevention tools – solutions that only protect the devices that access and store sensitive data – or network DLP, Office 365 DLP platforms are designed to safeguard the cloud.
Why? Because cloud apps don’t exist on your school network and therefore aren’t protected by other solutions. That’s why Microsoft Office has its own built-in data security capabilities.
Microsoft Purview — formerly known as Microsoft Information Protection — is a new suite of security features for Microsoft 365 E5 customers. In the past, Microsoft cloud app security was limited in scope and ability, but the company recently introduced a new batch of solutions to increase them.
Here’s how it works:
DLP policy creation
A data loss prevention policy is an administrative rule that dictates how data can be stored, accessed, and used throughout the school district. Administrators will automatically receive a notification when a DLP policy violation occurs — such as when sensitive items are improperly shared outside the school.
Here’s a policy tip: When you create a rule, you can use predefined policies at first, but be sure to tweak them to your district’s specifications as needed.
DLP policy matches
Microsoft Purview uses content analysis to scan Microsoft Office for sensitive info. It evaluates content for primary DLP policy matches to keywords and regular expressions, as well as phrases that are in near proximity to primary conditions. In essence, it detects anything that may be a direct or close violation of your rules.
Once a risk is found, it generates DLP reports about the incident, alerting you to which users are involved and what actions they took.
In combination, these tools allow schools to protect data at rest, in use, and in motion in various locations, including:
- Exchange Online email
- SharePoint online sites
- OneDrive accounts
- Microsoft Teams chat
- Microsoft Defender for cloud apps
- Windows 10, 11 and macOS devices
Preventing data loss: Office 365 threats and challenges
Microsoft Office 365 is among the most widely used cloud applications around the world, including in education. In fact, roughly 50% of school districts use Office 365 in some capacity, according to our research in collaboration with Edweek, but few deploy adequate cloud security.
As mentioned, Microsoft recently rolled out a more robust array of information protection tools. Although that’s a great start, there’s still a number of key weaknesses and limitations that could leave your district exposed:
- There are countless ways for a data leak to occur: Many sharing capabilities equal many channels that need to be defended, protected, and monitored in case of a data leak. Most often, accidental data loss occurs when staff use inappropriate sharing settings, such as global share, or send sensitive data via email.
- Credential theft: Office 365 credentials are a top target for cybercriminals, especially those belonging to users with over-reaching permissions and privileges. You run the risk exposing a whole swarm of sensitive information if such accounts are taken over.
- Cost is a barrier of entry: Microsoft Purview is only available to Microsoft 365 E5 customers — the highest tier subscription. At $38 per user every month, it’s inconceivable that cash-strapped schools can access its solutions.
- Difficult user experience: Microsoft’s interface is complex to set up, manage, and maintain. To make things more complicated, many districts also use Google Workspace in combination with Office 365, meaning security teams have to learn two disparate systems and switch between them – a painful process that can delay incident response times.
All things considered, your district needs a simpler, more comprehensive layer of cloud security.
How to choose the right solution to protect your data
When it comes to cloud security, no two solutions are the same. That’s why it’s important to identify the optimal platform for your school district’s needs. To help you narrow down your choices, here are a few key considerations to keep in mind:
- Ease of use: You need a solution that immediately hits the ground running and protects your data. Identify a service with out-of-the-box and cloud-based capabilities for rapid and simple deployment.
- Cost: Cloud security doesn’t need to be expensive to be effective. The right solution will offer comprehensive protection without draining your school budget.
- Integration: Why suffer through a clunky interface, let alone two? The best choice of solution will integrate both MIcrosoft Office and Google Workspace into one user-friendly, near-native platform.
- Automation: The Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency reports that most districts don’t employ a full-time data security team, let alone one with updated training. That’s why it’s important to lean on the support of an automated tool that takes the burden of monitoring and mitigating risk off your shoulders.
- CASB capabilities: A Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB) works like a club bouncer, standing between your sensitive items and outside forces. Look for a tool that can prevent unauthorized access every step of the way.
- Data privacy: You need a vendor you can trust. The right platform won’t build student data profiles, collect unnecessary information, or share confidential data outside your district.
With ManagedMethods, you receive all this and more. Our cloud-based cloud security solution is built with user experience in mind so that you can focus on keeping your sensitive data safe and secure. Better yet, we let you trial the platform before making a commitment.