Bridging the gap between mental health, physical well-being, and your district’s cloud environment

Your district’s Google Workspace and/or Microsoft 365 environments are no longer separate from health and well-being IRL

The world has taken on a renewed sense of ownership when it comes to mental health in recent years – and for good reason.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 6 kids aged 6-17 experience mental illness each year. Even worse, students of this same age group with mental, emotional, or behavioral concerns are three times more likely to repeat a grade.

In other words, mental health makes a difference in the lives of your students. It’s the responsibility of your district to take appropriate action and support students who may be going through mental or emotional distress – especially when distress signals show up in school-provided technology.

Here, we’ll take a look at the overlap between mental, physical, and cyber well-being and what your school district can do to mitigate safety risks before they get out of hand.

A closer look at your district’s Google/Microsoft cloud environment

Cloud services like Google Workspace and Microsoft 365, provide major benefits to educators around the country. When world events necessitated the leap to online learning, these cloud apps were there to cushion the landing.

But when school districts transitioned from traditional learning tools in favor of cloud applications – and the many convenient cost-savings they provide – many neglected to make an equal commitment to cloud security. Our research in collaboration with Edweek revealed that even though 90% of schools operate in the cloud, only 20% of cybersecurity budgets are being allocated to protecting cloud applications in 2022.

It’s a common misconception that network or endpoint security tools extend to the cloud. In reality, they only protect the data, tools, and services that exist within your network. Cloud applications, however, are external services provided by third-party vendors. That’s why cloud security is a must-have solution for every school district.

But how does cybersecurity relate to mental health and physical safety? In short, you only need to consider the many types of data that your school district is already storing in the cloud. These may include:

  • Personally identifiable information: Anything from home addresses, social security numbers, or dates of birth.
  • Financial information: This may include student or parental payment information or account numbers.
  • Academic records: The cloud may contain test scores, grades, disciplinary records, or even assessments produced by school guidance counselors.
  • Medical histories: Your nursing staff may store diagnoses, illnesses, allergens, and family medical histories in cloud applications.

All of these data points are likely stored in your cloud environment, but almost none of them are protected by adequate cloud security. Now imagine if they fell into the wrong hands, whether it be a student, teacher, or outsider. The repercussions of that exposure could have far-reaching effects to both mental and physical well-being.

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How do digital incidents occur?

A digital incident refers to the accidental or malicious exposure of confidential information. In the case of your school district, that information could include any of the types outlined above.

Generally speaking, you can group digital incidents into two categories: data breaches and data leaks. Let’s take a closer look at how each one might occur.

Data breaches

A data breach is a malicious internal or external attack that exposes sensitive data outside the school district. The most common causes of such a breach include:

  • Scammers: Phishing scams can fool students and staff into unwittingly revealing sensitive information to a third party.
  • Hackers: Perhaps the most commonly known threat actors, hackers attempt to break into your cloud environment using many tactics, including malware, ransomware, and code injection.

Data leaks

A data leak refers to the accidental release of sensitive data from your cloud environment. Data leaks are usually accidental and often happen in a few different ways:

  • Improper file sharing: Students may accidentally share files that contain confidential data.
  • Accidental email attachments: If someone erroneously attaches a file to an external communication, that information could be exposed online.
  • Third-party apps: Unsecure cloud services may be cracked into by a hacker, or they might mistakenly release your data on their own. Either way, they put you at risk.

Digital incidents with real-world consequences

Digital incidents can have a direct impact on the physical and emotional safety of the students whose data is involved in the event.

Although there’s almost no telling what could happen when student data falls into the hands of an unauthorized third party, you need only look at history to understand the dangers:

  • Even before the widespread adoption of the cloud, data breaches have been known to yield real-world threats. For example, in 2017, a district in Johnston, Iowa was forced to cancel classes and increase physical security after a hacker group called “Dark Overlords” exposed the complete directory of school information online, which included names, addresses, and phone numbers.
  • In 2021, a female student from the San Dieguito school district in California rejected the advances of a male classmate. The male student retaliated by hacking the cloud-based school information system, manipulating her grades, cyberstalking her, and sending her death threats online. Her family later filed a lawsuit against the district.

Fortunately, neither of these cases led to physical harm – but they easily could have. That’s what makes data loss prevention such an immense responsibility. Data breaches and leaks expose students to fraud, extortion, and identity theft, not to mention bullying and harassment from their peers.

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Unseen dangers in your Google/Microsoft environment

On the flip side, there are many ways that physical and mental stressors can manifest themselves in the cloud. Whether it be bullying, family, or academic performance, any number of factors could have a serious effect on a student’s mental well-being and physical safety.

Believe it not, cloud services are often hosting unseen digital expressions that might indicate signs of risky behaviors. For example, a student might journal their experiences in a school-provided cloud application, or they might talk about their troubles with a classmate over chat. In either example, these digital expressions may indicate signs of the following:

  • Self-harm: Cloud behavior may indicate that a student is engaging in self-destructive activities, inflicting pain in themselves or considering suicide.
  • Digital self-harm: Likewise, digital self-harm refers to when a student bullies themselves online. Although still a relatively new phenomenon, digital self-harm is a rising threat to student well-being.
  • Cyberbullying: According to research from Light, toxic online behaviors including cyberbullying have increased 40% since the start of the pandemic in 2019, when students became most reliant on digital platforms.
  • Violence: It’s not uncommon for cyberbullying to spiral into threats of violence. These behaviors are often communicated through school-provided services, including Google Workspace and Microsoft Office.

Without the ability to spot these risks as they occur, it’s impossible to get ahead of the curve and prevent a bad situation from getting worse.

How to mitigate risk and promote healthier digital habits

The good news is that there’s a way to uncover these unseen risks and prevent digital incidents from occurring in the first place: a cloud-based monitoring solution.

By leveraging a cloud data loss prevention (DLP) tool to your advantage, you can effectively keep tabs on your cloud environment. In turn, you can identify data security risks, address mental health concerns, and prevent the physical repercussions of such incidents.

Here’s how cloud monitoring works:

  • Automated enforcement: Cloud DLP allows you to configure your own policies. When students create or share content that violates those policies – such as emailing sensitive information or communicating signs of self-harm – administrators will be promptly notified.
  • Risk detection: Cloud monitoring solutions can be tailored to detect signs of cyberbullying, sexting, online predation, violence, and other threats to student safety.
  • Inappropriate content: Through artificial intelligence, the platform automatically identifies risky, violent, or sexually explicit content in images and text and mitigates the risk based on a predetermined set of actions.
  • Incident management: By monitoring the cloud environment, you can proactively intervene before an incident spirals out of control, compile a report, and notify the necessary individuals to ensure the most positive outcomes are achieved.

Altogether, a cloud monitoring solution is a must-have tool for ensuring the mental, physical, and cyber well-being of your school district’s student population. With cloud DLP on your side, you can prevent the exposure of sensitive student data that may lead to physical and mental distress. Even more importantly, you can identify signs of that distress when they’re detected in your cloud environment.

At ManagedMethods, our cloud-based security platform is designed for ease-of-use with out-of-the-box functionality so that you can focus on ensuring the well-being of your students. To help you realize the full power of cloud monitoring, you can trial the platform free for 30 days.

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