Taking A Layered Approach To Cybersecurity

In the world of data protection, there’s a classic analogy experts use to describe the ideal security strategy. Here’s how it goes:

Think of your school district’s digital infrastructure as a medieval castle. It houses your most valuable treasures — academic records, student data, and sensitive information.

Outside the castle walls, your network security forms a moat to protect the crown jewels from unauthorized access and attack. The only way to enter is by crossing a drawbridge, where guards check all traffic for signs of a potential threat.

Although it seems simple, this approach is a tried-and-true method for mitigating cyber threats of all shapes and sizes. Why? Because it uses multiple security measures to continuously monitor and stop hackers before they reach the inner keep.

In short, that’s why it’s called a layered security strategy. Never heard of it? No problem. In this blog, we’ll explain the basics of multi-layered cybersecurity and how your school district can benefit from an additional layer of protection.

What is a layered approach to cybersecurity?

A layered security approach uses multiple security measures, policies, and solutions to safeguard an organization’s IT environment from cyber attacks and data leaks. The goal is simple: Make it harder for a threat actor to get through the network perimeter, steal sensitive data, and impact your infrastructure. The layered security model is also known as “defense in depth,” named after a military tactic.

Much like in battle, you might choose to allocate all resources along the frontlines — i.e. your network security. However, if a hacker still manages to break through your perimeter defense, there’s nothing else standing between them and the rest of your infrastructure. In that case, they gain unfettered access to your sensitive data.

With defense in depth, you have secondary safety nets that bolster data protection at scale. In essence, each security layer provides reinforcements, which lower the risk of a single vulnerability compromising the entire system.

Benefits of layered cybersecurity

Why take a layered approach? Simply put, there are numerous advantages:

  • Increased efficiency: K-12 districts are struggling to protect student data. According to federal research, most don’t have a full-time security team to actively monitor their threat landscape. A layered approach allows you to overcome this obstacle by leveraging multiple security measures working in synergy.
  • Improved threat prevention: OpenText reports that multi-layered security can reduce the number of devices that encounter malware by over 40% compared to using just one security layer. That’s especially significant considering the increasingly high volume of cyber attacks impacting K-12.
  • Strengthened resilience: If a data breach occurs, a layered security strategy can mitigate the resulting damage and limit the spread of the attack, reducing downtime and minimizing the impact on students and staff. Given how a single incident can cause monetary losses of up to $1 million, this may translate into enormous cost savings in the long run.

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Key components of the layered security model

There are two ways to break down the layered security model: First, by the types of security controls you can use; and second, by the actual layers themselves.

Security control categories

Broadly speaking, a security control is a product, policy, or security measure that implements one or more defense mechanisms. You may find several controls in a single security solution, but more likely than not, you’ll require numerous platforms and procedures to ensure you’re well protected.

Controls typically fall into three categories:

  • Physical controls: This includes all of the safeguards you use to protect your physical infrastructure from unauthorized access. This may involve various access control and surveillance methods, such as security cameras and alarm systems. For example, staff members may need ID cards to enter server rooms.
  • Technical controls: Technical controls consist of the hardware and software solutions you use to secure data and protect your essential assets. This includes multi-factor authentication, data loss prevention, antivirus software, content filtering, firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and so on.
  • Administrative controls: This refers to the policies and protocols you implement to oversee and enforce cybersecurity best practices. For instance, you may provide security awareness training to students and staff. You might also create an incident response plan or enact a Zero Trust security strategy.

Layers of defense

It’s common for institutions with a layered approach to cybersecurity to deploy the above controls across numerous layers simultaneously. This overlap is by design, as redundancy is key to defense in depth.

Generally, the layered security model has five components:

  1. Physical security: The first layer is where many of the aforementioned physical controls come into play. It primarily involves securing your district’s physical premises and hardware, such as through access control systems and environmental controls.
  2. Endpoint security: This layer focuses on protecting individual devices, such as tablets, computers, and workstations. Any device connected to your network is a potential entry point for hackers. Endpoint security might include installing antivirus software on your computers or mandating regular updates to patch vulnerabilities.
  3. Network security: Also known as perimeter security, this layer specifically focuses on securing inbound and outbound traffic. It might involve segmentation, a practice where you divide your school network into parts, thereby preventing lateral movement. You may also use network access control tools and intrusion detection systems to identify malicious activity.
  4. Application security: Every organization has several critical applications it uses for core business operations, and schools are no different. This layer protects against cyber threats that originate from these systems, usually through penetration testing and secure configuration. Application security also encompasses email security, as email is a commonly used business app.
  5. Cloud security: With more schools using cloud-based services, such as Google Workspace, Microsoft 365, and many more, cloud security has emerged as a must-have layer of protection. As you can imagine, it focuses on infrastructure and data hosted in the cloud. Monitoring tools are an especially important cloud security solution, providing greater visibility into and control over off-premise resources.

Why do school districts need multiple layers of protection?

As the K-12 school system changes, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to prevent sensitive information from falling into the wrong hands. Specifically, three factors are driving the push for layered cybersecurity:

  1. More connections: From school-provided tablets to individual smartphones used as part of bring-your-own-device policies, a growing number of endpoints are accessing school resources. Personal devices are especially susceptible to attack, as they tend to lack endpoint security controls.
  2. More cloud applications: Over 90% of schools operate in the cloud using platforms like Google Workspace and Microsoft 365. Despite their benefits, cloud apps and offerings from third-party vendors expand the attack surface even further.
  3. More cyber threats: Cybercriminals are ramping up their efforts and targeting student data at an unprecedented volume. In fact, cyber attacks tripled during the pandemic and likely won’t slow down anytime soon.

Simply put, schools can’t afford to think of cybersecurity in a vacuum. Why? Because hackers don’t limit themselves to just one means of attack. In reality, they’re using a wide variety of strategies to bypass defense mechanisms and exfiltrate sensitive information. Consider the anatomy of a typical K-12 cyber attack:

  • A hacker scours the web for a reputable person, such as a school administrator, to imitate.
  • The threat actor launches a phishing attack by sending malicious emails to unsuspecting users. They masquerade as the previously identified credible source.
  • If someone divulges personal information or downloads a malware attachment, hackers can gain unauthorized access to school resources, inject viruses, conduct lateral phishing attacks, and exfiltrate sensitive data.
  • Meanwhile, ransomware quietly roams the school domain, harvesting information and preparing to take critical information systems offline until they’ve received payment.

The above scenario is just one example of how hackers might use multiple attack vectors. This allows them to cast a much wider net, scooping up valuable data right from under your nose.

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Fortify your defenses with ManagedMethods

You might already have physical, endpoint, and network security down pat. But what about Google Workspace and Microsoft 365?

The truth is that roughly 80% of school districts go without cloud security. Worse yet, student data is up for grabs. Even schools that have a layered security strategy aren’t sufficiently protected if they lack the final layer of defense. Why? Because other security controls aren’t designed to safeguard cloud apps like Google Workspace and Microsoft 365, which means they’re vulnerable to attack.

Fortunately, you can close the gaps in your security posture by implementing Cloud Monitor by ManagedMethods. In simple terms, it’s a cloud-based security solution that natively integrates with Google Workspace and Microsoft 365. Using artificial intelligence and data loss prevention, it automates threat detection across your entire domain, alerting you to policy violations in near-real time.

Combined with Content Filter, our web filtering tool, you can amplify visibility on your school district’s frontlines. Our solution operates within the Google Chrome browser, automatically blocking inappropriate content and malicious websites. Better yet, it notifies you when users attempt to access restricted content, allowing you to jump into action with the appropriate response.

Ready to bolster your defenses? Begin your layered cybersecurity strategy by allowing our team to audit your Google Workspace and Microsoft 365 for free.

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