How to Keep District Data From Taking an Unauthorized Vacation During Summer Break

Summer break — a time to kick back, relax, and soak in the sun. After a long school year of combating cyber risk, migrating to the cloud, and protecting student data privacy, it’s finally time to take a hard-earned vacation.

Not so fast: Are you sure your data will be safe for the summer? That’s a question that many school districts aren’t ready to answer. The truth is that there are still many ways that student, staff, and financial data might be put in harm’s way even when class isn’t in session. Without the protections of proper cloud security, you might actually be more vulnerable to cyber attacks.

But don’t cancel your plans just yet — there’s plenty that can be done to keep your data safe and sound over break. Let’s take a look at everything you should know about protecting student data while school is out for summer vacation.

Data security over summer break

If anything is for certain, it’s that cloud computing is no longer the wave of the future — it’s the here and now. Accelerated by the pandemic and cemented by their vast educational and administrative advantages, cloud-based edtech tools are a staple of any forward-thinking school district.

According to research from Edweek, more than 9 in 10 schools operate in the cloud, with services like Google Workspace and Microsoft 365 leading the charge. Nearly just as many schools, however, haven’t implemented any type of cloud security technology to protect those cloud applications. Even worse, a fundamental misunderstanding about data security is that traditional network-based protections aren’t equipped to monitor data stored in the cloud.

In other words, network security solutions only service data that flows through a school network — not data that exists in Google Workspace or Microsoft 365. Without any solution monitoring the cloud, a treasure trove of student data is left exposed.

And those school districts who do use cloud security? They might still be held back by two misconceptions about cloud data when school isn’t in session:

  • School is out, so it’s safe to let your guard down: Even when students leave campus, their data still remains in the cloud. With less activity to monitor, schools might believe they can take their foot off the pedal and assume their data is protected — but this isn’t necessarily the case. Letting your guard down could expose your school district to risk and allow an unseen threat to go undetected.
  • Students aren’t accessing the school cloud: You might assume that because students are at home or on vacation they aren’t using school-provided cloud services. In reality, students may continue to use cloud applications to communicate with friends and complete summer work on top of any number of potential reasons.

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Summertime cyber risks and threat vectors

Data doesn’t take a summer vacation, and neither do cybercriminals. Why should cloud security be any different?

In recent years, hackers have begun targeting holidays and weekends as the optimal time to strike. In fact, the FBI and CISA have even warned businesses of the danger that letting your guard down during these times might have on their data security. Cybercriminals target specific moments like holidays and weekends because they know organizations are typically the most vulnerable during times when staff are away and their attention is directed elsewhere.

It’s not unrealistic to expect hackers to target summer break as an opportune chance to attack school districts — whom they’re already striking at an unprecedented rate. According to Microsoft’s global threat activity database, education is by far the most targeted industry with over 80% of all cyber attacks in the past 30 days.

Suffice to say, letting your guard down simply isn’t an option — especially given the following threat vectors:

  • Ransomware: Ransomware has become the most common type of publicly disclosed cyber incident at U.S. schools. Hackers may use this time of lax cybersecurity to infiltrate your school district and plant the seed for a later attack, such as when school is back in session and there may be more data to exfiltrate. The more student data they acquire, the more leverage they have over your district when negotiating a larger ransom payment.
  • Lateral phishing: If an account is compromised without your knowledge, they may not only steal their data, but use the account to scam students and staff members. This type of phishing is called lateral phishing because it happens laterally between two accounts already within the same domain. For example, if a staff member’s Google account is hacked, they might send malicious emails to students in hopes to access more sensitive information.
  • Unsanctioned apps: Students may be accessing unauthorized and risky third-party applications on the school cloud. These could be potentially malicious or unsecure apps that may lead to a data loss incident. Some apps may even be infected with malware that could spread throughout your cloud environment and expose your district to any of the threats mentioned above.
  • Account takeovers: Cybercriminals from all over the world are targeting school districts like yours and cracking into student accounts. In fact, according to Andy Lombardo — a K-12 technology director and ManagedMethods customer — roughly 20% of all login attempts in his district come from outside the United States. He sees that as a telltale sign that they’re constantly under attack.

How to use summer break to your advantage

Though it’s true that school districts are under incessant attack from hackers in all areas of the world, there’s still plenty you can do to flip the script and enjoy your summer vacation.

Think about it: Most school cybersecurity teams are busy during the school year. Because so many students are on campus and accessing the cloud on a regular basis, it’s difficult to cut through the noise and catch a cyber threat before it’s too late. But with less activity in the cloud environment overall, it should be easier for districts to identify anomalous behavior during the summertime.

Better yet, summer break is a great opportunity for schools to reassess their defenses and bolster their cloud security with a standardized policy and response plan. A concrete plan of action will be extremely useful when mitigating an identified risk in real-time when class is in session.

Unsure where to start? You can request a free cloud audit to get a read on how many risks are lurking around your cloud environment.

But most importantly, summer is a chance to deploy a proper cloud security solution that will empower you to protect data year-round. A cloud monitoring platform like ManagedMethods can offer 24/7/365 risk detection, even when security teams are soaking in the sun. With an automated solution on hand, IT staff can take their foot off the pedal knowing that there’s still someone at the wheel.

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The benefits of cloud DLP

Unfortunately, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to cloud security. Not all solutions are built the same, which is why your district needs the flexibility, speed, and power of a cloud DLP solution.

Cloud DLP — that is, cloud data loss prevention (DLP) — refers to any solution designed to protect data stored specifically in the cloud. This unique type of cloud security platform is built upon a series of rules — known as DLP policies — that dictate how cloud data can be accessed, shared, or deleted. These parameters decide how your cloud security solution will monitor risks.

DLP policies can be configured to the specific needs of your school district, which may change during summer break. With rules optimized for your district, you can rest assured that you’ll be notified of a policy violation when one occurs.

For example, if an unsanctioned app appears in your cloud environment, you can quickly identify, remove, and investigate it further. You’ll know exactly when and by whom the app was installed.

Cloud monitoring abilities also allow you to quickly detect suspicious activity, whether it be during the summer months or when there are thousands of students creating data at the same time. Because DLP is automated, you can streamline your data protection efforts and mediate risks as quickly as possible.

All in all, an adequate cloud DLP platform like ManagedMethods can offer:

  • Near real-time enforcement: Your security team will be the first to know when a violation occurs so that you can tackle the threat before it’s too late.
  • Customizable policies: Create DLP rules and adjust them over time as your needs change.
  • Content and keyword scanning: Detect phishing scams, student safety signals, and more in cloud-based communications thanks to image and RegEx capabilities.
  • File matching: DLP tools identify when files are being shared or duplicated without authorization.
  • Automated remediation: Automatically revoke access permissions, suspend users, and quarantine content when a violation is detected.

That’s the power that a cloud security platform provides your school district — even over summer break. Interested in more information? Schedule a free 30-day demo of ManagedMethods today and kick-start your cloud security experience.

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