Best Student Data Protection Practices for Educational Institutions

Date: 18 May 2022

Cybersecurity has been an important topic of conversation and discussion in the corporate and government sectors for a while now. However, professionals and participants in other spheres are also quickly realizing just how essential it is to be safe in our digitized world. We spend so much time online that we sometimes forget that the Internet can be just as dangerous as the offline world.

Businesses and government organisations are implementing different cybersecurity measures at breakneck speed to protect themselves from possible ransomware attacks, data breaches, etc. Many of these institutions also invest heavily in high-quality cybersecurity training courses for their staff as the human element plays a critical role in combating cyber-criminals and threat agents. 

The good news is that even the education sector is now taking cognizance of the importance of cybersecurity and implementing small measures that can go a long way in protecting student data, critical research and other assets of educational institutions. The rise of EdTech has led to an even greater focus on cybersecurity. and just as the human element plays a vital role in the protection of any institution or organisation, in the realm of education, it’s the teachers who have a significant role to play when it comes to protecting student data and confidential information and research. 

In this blog, we look at some simple ways in which teachers can inculcate healthier cybersecurity practices across educational institutions and enable greater protection for student privacy and data.

1. Don’t Believe That “Free” Is Actually Free: Perhaps the most important rule you need to remember yourself and teach your students too is that you shouldn’t believe that “free” actually means free. Blindly using free apps and software in education could easily jeopardize your data protection efforts.

In most cases, “free” apps ask you to connect your Google or Microsoft account while also actively collecting information about the users. This is precisely why you need to vet every app or program you want to use in the classroom and educate your students about the same. It’s the onus of the teachers to understand and then explain to their students why they must be cautious every time they download a free app or log into a free public WiFi network. Theft of personal data and its ensuing misuse is a very real threat that all students must be sensitized against. 

2. Evaluate your Current Posture: To truly get started with cybersecurity and data protection, you need to acknowledge that you might have issues and that you need to really see where you stand. Unless you actively seek out the problems your institution and your personal practices already have, you won’t be able to address them.

For instance, if you are already using many free applications, you need to acknowledge this fact, vet them, and maybe even stop using some of them to avoid the risks associated with them. You might have to start using more secure, paid alternatives. Many large educational institutions also opt for our Breach Readiness Assessment to see where they stand in terms of cybersecurity maturity and to understand what they can do to improve their existing posture. 

3. Be Transparent with Students’ Parents: It goes without saying that cybersecurity in higher education is actively discussed in academic circles, but this doesn’t mean that students’ parents are fully aware of all of the matters involved in cybersecurity, especially as far as EdTech goes.

Consequently, you need to be completely transparent with your students’ parents and/or legal guardians. Educate them on data protection and make sure that they themselves don’t accidentally put their children in danger when disclosing their data online in some way.

4. Educate Students on Data Protection: Speaking of the students themselves, you need to educate them on data protection. Promoting data protection literacy is one of the best ways to ensure that everyone understands cybersecurity as best as possible.

Explain to your students why it is important to be careful online. Moreover, help them take the necessary precautions when studying with the help of EdTech platforms. For example, warn them that they shouldn’t use any free software they find and that they have to be smart with their passwords among other things. You could also consider cybersecurity training courses that focus on general awareness for students. This can also help them in their professional careers later on.  

Students can be encouraged to write on cybersecurity in college to better explain what they've understood. However, this can be overwhelming. There are a lot of concepts to cover, and it can be difficult to know where to start. Developing a deeper knowledge of the basics of cybersecurity and using essay writers can help write a well-rounded essay on this topic and articulate what they have learnt. 

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5. Know Your Vendors’ Terms of Use and Privacy Policies: Most people usually avoid reading terms of use and privacy policies of the websites they visit, the services they purchase, and the applications they use. But as a teacher who is conscious of their students’ data protection needs, you need to do this and make it a habit.

It’s a good idea to read the terms of use and privacy policies of both free and paid apps and programs you use. You may have empaneled EdTech vendors to facilitate delivery of education or courses to students. You must not overlook checking their terms, conditions, and policies. It is imperative to know and understand how your vendors store and use your data and that of your students in order to protect student privacy. 

6. Create Cybersecurity Guidelines: As mentioned earlier, you need to check every app or program you want to use for its commitment to cyber safety. This is why you need to create guidelines for vetting apps – a standard process that you will use for every new program you want to start using as an institution. If you don’t know how to create such guidelines, you can hire a professional writer from custom writing reviews sites like Writing Judge. These guidelines will be useful both for you and for your students, but you can also share them with your colleagues.

7. Use Social Media in a Conscious Way: Social media platforms are great for sharing the high points of your life and keeping in touch with friends and family. However, doing so means that you are leaving a lot of personal information about yourself online. This information could be used to hack into your accounts, even the ones you use for educational purposes. Malicious threat actors can also use this information to unleash phishing scams or social engineering attacks on your students by posing as you. 

Therefore, you need to be extra cautious when using social media. Likewise, you should also explain to your students that they should also be using their accounts in a conscious way. Wherever one is leaving a digital footprint, one must be extremely careful. 

In addition to these measures, it's crucial for both educators and students to be proactive in their approach to online safety. Learning how to protect your digital footprint can significantly reduce the risk of cyber threats and personal data breaches. This involves being mindful of the information shared online and understanding the impact of digital activities.

8. Manage Cybersecurity Risks Beforehand: Instead of trying to solve problems when they happen, it is much better to manage cybersecurity risks beforehand. In other words, by taking the right precautions, you can avoid a bulk of the damage that a cyber-attack may be able to cause for your college or school. 

Always operate from an understanding that you could and probably will get attacked sooner or later. Be vigilant yourself and help your students understand the importance of strong passwords, multi-factor authentication, proper backups etc.

You can download this Ransomware Readiness Checklist to help everyone understand some basic precautions they can take in advance to be ready for the worst. Further, as an educational institution, you must always have a solid Cyber Incident Response Plan in place that can guide in case of a cybersecurity event.

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If you don’t have a strong internal cybersecurity team that can help you build this Response Plan, look into the option of hiring a Virtual Cyber Assistant who can help you manage your cybersecurity posture and enhance your maturity tremendously.

9. Get Professional Help: Last but not the least, don’t hesitate to get professional help if you feel like you need it. You can go to a cybersecurity consultancy firm and hire an expert who can assess your institutional cybersecurity maturity and will guide your institution and help it implement the necessary cybersecurity measures.

In addition to that, you can also organize cybersecurity training by experts, specifically targeted at students and other teachers in your educational institution to teach them about cybersecurity, data protection, and other related topics. It is by far the best way to ensure that everyone is on the same page and understands what cybersecurity is all about.

Bottom Line

The bottom line is that every educational institution needs to implement the necessary measures that will protect student data. However, teachers should also educate their students about data protection and help them protect themselves on their own. While technology makes access to education easier for everyone, it has also opened up our students’ data to threats like never before. It is the responsibility of teachers and administrators to make sure that everyone understands the risks and takes individual responsibility for managing these risks.

About the Author

Frank HamiltonFrank Hamilton has been working as an editor at custom writing company Best Writers Online. He is a professional writing expert in such topics as blogging, digital marketing and online education. He also loves traveling and speaks Spanish, French, German and English.


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