School districts across the country are working with cloud service providers like Microsoft to bring their operations into the digital age. As a matter of fact, 9 in 10 schools are using either Microsoft 365, Google Workspace, or a combination of the two.
However, with this transformation also comes substantial cybersecurity risk. Read on to find out why your district needs to protect Microsoft 365, the power of a cloud access security broker (CASB), and what to look for in the right solution.
Why do schools need cloud security?
Long gone are the days when classrooms were filled with chalkboards and filing cabinets. Now, as K-12 school systems evolve into the digital age, the modern learning environment is littered with smartboards, personal devices, and digital information systems. And, with the advent of cloud computing, you may not even need a classroom at all.
That was exactly the case — at least temporarily — during the COVID-19 pandemic. By no surprise, most schools adopted cloud services at a rapid pace to accommodate remote learning. But, even after students returned to the classroom, cloud applications remained a staple of the modern education system. From learning tools to data centers and everything in between, districts were working with more cloud service providers than ever before.
The only problem? With a sprawling cloud app catalog to account for, a swarm of threat vectors emerged out of the woodwork. To make matters worse, few schools were prepared to mitigate cloud threats with adequate data protection. In fact, fewer than 20% of cybersecurity budgets allocated any resources to cloud security — a daunting and significant vulnerability.
The bottom line: Without cloud application security policies, it’s only a matter of time before hackers get ahold of your sensitive data. Threat protection is no longer optional, especially given the volume and complexity of school-related cyber attacks. In truth, there’s an ever-growing list of threat vectors targeting student information, but here’s a peak at the most prominent:
- Phishing scams
- Distributed-Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attacks
- Account takeovers
- Third-party data leaks
- Negligent insiders
For more information, check out our guide to the top data security risks impacting K-12.
What is CASB?
In other words, they’re checkpoints that users must pass through before accessing cloud application resources. CASBs may enforce a wide array of threat protection strategies, including multi-factor authentication, single sign-on, encryption, malware detection, data loss prevention, and more.
As cloud threats become more common and sophisticated, many schools are looking for new application security tools to level the playing field. That’s where a cloud access security broker can pay dividends. Broadly speaking, CASBs support threat detection by enhancing visibility and simplifying risk management from start to finish.
This normally works using a three-part process:
- Cloud app discovery: CASBs scan the entire cloud domain to identify any applications in use, as well any user that’s affiliated with that software. Cloud discovery is especially useful for finding unsanctioned apps your students and staff members have access to.
- Classification: CASBs evaluate each application, identify data, and calculate the associated risk factor.
- Remediation: After the relative risk of each application is known, the CASB can use this to set security policies for your district’s sensitive data and automatically take action when a rule violation occurs.
4 pillars of cloud access security broker
CASBs are built on four cornerstones. Each pillar represents a foundational capability that all CASB solutions should provide. These include:
- Visibility: It’s often difficult for a school district to get a sense of its threat landscape. Fortunately, CASBs provide rich visibility and allow you to identify all cloud apps in use. This cloud discovery process is particularly important, as it enables administrators to eliminate shadow IT and keep the attack surface to a minimum.
- Data security: Of course, data protection is paramount. That’s why most CASBs offer data loss prevention (DLP) mechanisms, which extend security policies to all information traveling to, moving within, or stored in a cloud application.
- Threat protection: CASBs aggregate and understand usage patterns, allowing them to detect anomalous behavior. For instance, if a student account begins downloading hoards of sensitive data, a CASB may flag this as suspicious. Combined with other capabilities, they protect your district from internal and third-party cloud threats.
- Compliance: There’s no doubt schools are under strict industry regulations, such as the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). CASBs make it easy to satisfy your CIPA compliance requirements, as well as other obligations related to data privacy and security legislation.
What is Microsoft CASB?
When we say “Microsoft CASB,” we’re referring to the cloud access security broker that’s built into Microsoft Office. If your school district uses Microsoft Office 365, you likely already have it installed.
In truth, there are many different Microsoft security tools available to Microsoft Office customers. The company’s CASB solution, however, is known as Microsoft Defender for Cloud Apps.
Specifically, Microsoft Defender is a CASB that operates on multiple cloud domains. That means it works for both Google Workspace and Microsoft 365 app security.
Generally, this platform provides every capability you need from a Microsoft CASB solution. Not only does it enhance visibility, but it also helps you strengthen data protection for all your Office applications. For instance, you can immediately uncover sensitive data contained in Microsoft Teams, Microsoft Edge, and OneDrive. With additional threat intelligence, you can investigate discovered apps and take measures to remove them from your domain.
However, there are some notable drawbacks for education customers. Most notably, cost is a significant factor for school districts. Users can only leverage the true power of Microsoft Defender by paying for a Microsoft 365 E5 license — the most expensive tier available. At $57 per user every month, this is unrealistic for most districts with tight budgets.
Also, many school IT administrators find the Microsoft Defender console to be too complex. The interface can be difficult to set up, manage, and maintain. If the user experience is too burdensome, schools may not use a CASB at all — meaning cloud security falls by the wayside.
Microsoft CASB vs. third-party security platforms
Given the drawbacks listed above, you may be wondering whether there’s a third-party alternative. The good news? There are plenty. Plus, choosing the right third-party solution can even put you at a serious advantage:
- If your district uses additional cloud applications, a third-party solution will usually offer security and control over them in addition to Microsoft Office. Other popular cloud services applications that need to be secured include Google Workspace, Zoom, Slack, Box, and Dropbox (to name a few).
- A third party offers effective redundancy. This is a system that’s intricately designed so that if a component in your system fails, there’s a backup process in place. This redundancy duplicates the system so that you can protect your organization’s information and you won’t lose data.
- Almost all third-party CASBs offer customizable data loss prevention controls to ensure your cloud environment is secure. Since students and staff are prone to accidentally signing up for potentially risky applications without looking into them, it’s important to have a system that can catch security threats and automatically remove them before any damage is done.
How do you choose a CASB solution?
We’ve established that a third-party CASB is often a great alternative to Microsoft’s native tools. But how do you start your search?
No two platforms are made the same, so it’s key to keep a few items in mind. Here are the top considerations you should factor in when selecting a CASB vendor:
- Ease of use: User experience is critical. You don’t want to roll out a new solution only to discover it’s clunky and difficult to manage. An ideal CASB vendor will offer a platform that’s quick to deploy, with robust functionality from the get-go.
- Architecture: CASBs are built using either proxies or application programming interfaces (APIs). In short, a proxy acts as a gateway that checks for known users and devices when they attempt to access cloud data. Proxies work by duplicating security features most districts already have. APIs, however, allow the CASB to integrate new capabilities instead of repeating your existing ones. Basically, it’s an additive solution to your layered data security posture — not a hat on top of a hat.
- Cost: School districts aren’t made of money. The right vendor will prioritize data protection over profit, pricing the platform at a reasonable cost that schools can actually afford. Better yet, they’ll let you trial the product before making a final decision.
- Automation: Managing cloud security is hard enough with a limited team. Many schools are short-staffed, especially when it comes to cybersecurity. That’s why it’s best to work with a CASB provider that automates detection, threat protection, and mitigation.
Protect your Microsoft cloud with ManagedMethods
Fortunately, you don’t have to look far and wide for the right cloud access security broker. At ManagedMethods, we offer a solution that’s natively built into Microsoft 365 using a robust API architecture.
Our Cloud Monitor platform is a CASB solution made specifically for K-12. Not only is it affordable, it’s also made to simplify and streamline cloud security no matter your level of expertise. And the best part? You don’t have to wait and see if it’ll work until after you purchase. We’ll let you test it out and witness the power of its automated capabilities for real.
Ready to get started? Request your free trial today.