School districts are increasingly trending toward the cloud, creating new information protection challenges in the process. Yet, cloud security is usually an afterthought, especially for K-12 teams with little cybersecurity training.
Being that it’s one of the most popular cloud service providers, many districts are leveraging Microsoft 365 (also known as Microsoft Office or Office 365). On the bright side, the Microsoft 365 app has several native security features, so student data isn’t totally unprotected. However, these tools aren’t always sufficient, particularly if you’re relying on them to secure both Microsoft and Google Workspace applications.
Indeed, most school districts stand to gain from an extra layer of cloud security. With a third-party cloud app security platform (CASP), you can close your gaps, protect sensitive data, and streamline threat detection.
Let’s explore the purpose of cloud application security tools and why Microsoft 365 customers need an additional layer of cloud security.
What is cloud app security?
Cloud application security refers to a particular area of threat detection and information protection. This brand of cybersecurity is specifically focused on safeguarding sensitive data stored in cloud applications, including Microsoft Office 365, Google Workspace, Slack, and so on.
Today’s threat landscape is much too sophisticated for most organizations to handle, especially in the K-12 school system. Cybercriminals are deploying increasingly advanced attack strategies to bypass basic network security tools.
Worse yet, many districts are partnered with a wide array of cloud service providers yet have little to no cloud security. In fact, according to EdWeek Research, over 90% of schools use Google Workspace, Microsoft 365, or a combination of the two. But, fewer than a quarter of cybersecurity budgets are being used to protect information stored in either Microsoft or Google cloud applications.
This is especially problematic given how frequently bad actors target K-12 clouds. A recent government report revealed that hackers ramped up their efforts during the pandemic — a time in which school-related cyber attacks increased over 300%.
Keep in mind why cybercriminals focus on school districts in the place. Your cloud domain is likely filled to the brim with an ever-growing amount of sensitive information pertaining to underage students, such as:
- Financial data
- Academic records
- Medical information
- Personally identifiable information
Whether stored in Google Drive or SharePoint Online, hackers aim to steal this data to flip it for a quick buck on the dark web. Without cloud platform security, it’s only a matter of time before they’re successful.
Likewise, third-party vendors are risks in and of themselves. If their defenses are breached, there’s little stopping a hacker from accessing your students’ sensitive information.
Advantages of cloud app security
Having a dedicated cloud security tool can greatly reduce your risk of data loss. If a hacker were to bypass your network security layer, a cloud application security platform would be able to detect suspicious activity.
Take a cloud access security broker (CASB), for example. A CASB tool not only streamlines threat detection, but can also take appropriate action to prevent data loss and identify where the breach occurred. Cloud application security is invaluable in detecting and mitigating inappropriate user behavior, too.
For instance, a student or staff member may violate your file-sharing policies and attach a sensitive folder to an external email. Fortunately, CASB tools double as email security, allowing you to identify the incident and mitigate it right away.
Altogether, a cloud access security broker can:
- Automate early threat detection
- Streamline incident response
- Simplify investigation and reporting
- Support information protection with few available resources
Some cloud service providers offer cloud security capabilities built into their offerings. As one of the most popular domains, Microsoft 365 offers several native solutions, including Microsoft Defender, Microsoft Cloud App Security, Microsoft Purview, and more.
Understanding Microsoft 365 security tools
Microsoft Office provides a web of various cloud platform security features depending on your licensing and add-ons. The relationship between each service can be confusing, so let’s take a look at how they differ and what they can do.
Microsoft Defender for Cloud Apps
Microsoft Defender is a comprehensive cross-SaaS solution. In other words, it works across multiple software-as-a-service (SaaS) platforms. This service provides visibility into your Microsoft domain, allowing you to manage discovered apps in one go. Once you sanction these applications, you can control and protect the data contained within them. This app governance feature helps you monitor the full suite of Microsoft tools, including:
- Microsoft Office (Word, PowerPoint, Excel, etc.)
- Microsoft Teams
- SharePoint Online
- Microsoft Edge
Microsoft Defender also offers data loss prevention (DLP), customizable policies, conditional access control, suspicious activity analysis, and more.
Microsoft 365 Cloud App Security (formerly Office 365 Cloud App Security)
As a subset of Microsoft Defender, Microsoft Cloud App Security is a less comprehensive solution. Although it provides some visibility and control over cloud application security, its features apply only to Microsoft 365 apps — no more, no less.
This solution is accessed through the same portal as Microsoft Defender and is usually bundled with a Microsoft 365 E5 subscription. However, as the highest-tier subscription, this may be cost-prohibitive for school districts. The Microsoft 365 E5 license is billed at $57 per user every month.
Furthermore, districts using multiple cloud service providers are unable to support other applications outside of Microsoft’s solutions. IT managers also find that being able to control and remediate aspects of Microsoft 365 security within the native tool is a time-consuming task, whereas third-party cloud security platforms, like ManagedMethods, can help administrators complete these tasks in minutes.
Microsoft Purview (formerly Microsoft Information Protection)
Microsoft Purview is one of the company’s latest information protection systems. This new solution integrates several capabilities, including DLP, app governance, risk management, and compliance.
Unfortunately, Purview is again only available to Microsoft 365 E5 customers.
Why do Microsoft 365 customers need third-party cloud app security?
Sadly, aside from being expensive, Microsoft’s native cloud platform security features are often difficult to manage. Many K-12 technology departments find the solution’s administrative and security console tedious to use or overly complicated.
This is largely because Microsoft Defender and other tools are built primarily for enterprise-level organizations — not your average school district. Whereas major organizations have the time and resources to hire, train, and manage teams of full-time security professionals, most districts are lucky to have anyone operating the controls at all.
Fortunately, third-party cloud security platforms can help you ease the pain and mitigate threats across the cloud domain — whether it be Microsoft, Google Workspace, or both. With ManagedMethods, for example, you gain the following capabilities:
1. Ability to monitor and secure applications
A third-party CASP that leverages application programming interfaces (APIs) can empower IT security teams with the ability to look at cloud applications, such as Google, Slack, Dropbox, and Box, that are granted open authentication (OAuth) permissions.
2. Additional layer of security to catch what Microsoft misses
Relying on Microsoft Office 365 as a standalone product means you won’t be able to support non-Microsoft files, such as PDFs. The good news is that third-party applications can fill in the gaps. Not only are you able to monitor content in SharePoint Online, OneDrive for Business, and Microsoft Teams, but you’re also able to monitor content living in Google Drive, Sheets, and Slides.
3. Simplified threat detection, remediation, and reporting
With a third-party application to support Microsoft’s native cloud security, organizations can use features such as Google AI image scanning to quickly view documents being shared within the district and identify which ones contain sensitive information. This helps you identify which risks need to be remediated and included in reports to help educate staff on why this information should not be sent.
If your organization doesn’t have the Office 365 E5 offering, you won’t receive access to security insights and recommendations your team can use against threats. Additionally, Microsoft’s low-tier offerings don’t provide the same easy and efficient detection, remediation, and reports that a third-party application can.
4. Microsoft account monitoring for risky logins and suspicious activity
Schools experience suspicious login attempts every day. Having a solution in place that can give a clear graphical representation of where an organization’s logins are coming from allows IT teams to quickly identify malicious activity.
Furthermore, with a third-party solution, you can create predefined and customizable policies, blacklist and whitelist logins by location, and use third-party app discovery and control. These same features come at a hefty cost with the Microsoft 365 E5 solution.
5. Advanced threat protection and data loss prevention
In today’s security landscape, you must have active malware threat protection and prevention in place. A partner like ManagedMethods can also provide DLP capabilities, which can detect sensitive information in a wider range of supported file formats, in addition to image risk detection for data within scanned docs and screenshots.
Layer your protection with ManagedMethods
ManagedMethods’ Cloud Monitor platform is a complete, API-based cloud security solution that helps protect the data and applications within K-12 school districts. Our platform works to prevent data breaches, malware, ransomware, phishing attacks, account takeovers, and more. Take control of your company’s information across various applications in one easy-to-use, affordable platform — made specifically for K-12.