What are the most common threats to students’ data for school systems?

05
Mar
2020
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Can document management protect schools?

 

School records contain some of the most sensitive information, and it’s about our children. So when information gets out, it can be detrimental on a personal level for the child, and it can be bad news for the school district as a whole.

Privacy concerns, especially as it relates to minors, have come to the forefront, and lawmakers are paying attention, too.

A privacy act that became law in 2016 requires notification by the Georgia Department of Education if student data is breached. So whether it’s hard copy records or digital records, the breach will be officially on record with the Georgia Department of Education as well as the superintendent of the affected school district and the attorney general. Furthermore, this month, in Missouri a bill came up that would require schools to alert parents of data breaches. We’ll see if other states, including Georgia, follow suit.

We work with a lot of school systems, and we’ve found that there are three main sources of risks to records.

Risk 1: Human Error

This is both the easiest mistake to make and, thankfully, the easiest problem to prevent. We’ve seen campuses span dozens of acres only have a single shredder. Faced with having to trek across campus to properly dispose of some files, some faculty, staff, substitute teachers, administrators, etc. may choose to throw files away, risking students’ confidential information getting out in the open. There was one case in Minnesota where some middle schoolers found some loose papers blowing near the school dumpster that happened to contain the special needs assessment for a seventh grader, including his IQ score, psychological assessment data, behavioral information, and family history. The middle schoolers started taunting and bullying the young boy about the information they found.

Solution 1: Implement a shred program

The bullying, and the subsequent lawsuit won by the boys’ parents, could have been prevented with a simple shred program. Our shred program can place shred bins at multiple locations across campus, and our uniformed, trained staff would handle all the pick-ups and destruction, all for a nominal cost.  And it makes it easy for teachers and staff members to do the right thing. In terms of protecting student information, this is the lowest hanging fruit and something all school systems should implement right away. This is basically like having insurance on your records.

Risk 2: Natural Disasters  

Our region is no stranger to natural disasters, from hurricanes to tornados. And when a devastating storm comes through, your physical records could be at risk of being damaged or completely destroyed. In Hurricane Michael, schools from Pelham to Bainbridge to Leon County all sustained damage. Many people think the answer is to completely get rid of physical records by scanning everything. However, that can cost upwards of a quarter of a million dollars, and, we oftentimes find, it is an unnecessary expense.

Solution 2: Customized document management solution.

Instead, we create customized, blended approach of paper and digital for school systems. We act as a consultant to find the best cloud-based software for digital conversion going forward. For files that need to be kept but are rarely accessed, we index and store in our secure facility and destroy records as they meet retention. This hybrid approach is the best blend for school systems looking to deal with their records in a cost-effective manner, and it could drastically help in the event of a natural disaster.

Risk 3: Data Breaches

Through September of last year, more than 50 school districts and colleges had reported cybersecurity attacks, several of them in here in the Southeast. But they weren’t relegated to the big Atlanta-based educations systems.  They were in our own backyard.

In March of 2019, there was an attempted hack of Thomas County Schools payroll system; however, no money was lost. And just 100 miles away from here in Dothan, AL, the Houston County School District was forced to delay the first day of school for 6,400 students after a cyberware attack shuttered the school system.

Educational institutions create a perfect storm of vulnerability for these hackers.

Most institutions have limited budgets for IT staff and infrastructure, and resources must be shared and spread across a wide and complex system. Schools also make for very public targets – not just for professional hackers, but also for students. Nearly one-third of attacks against schools are from users seeking retaliation, a percentage far higher than in other industries.

A full-fledged cyber security plan can be hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars. Gwinnett County Public Schools will spend nearly $1 million over three-year period, the AJC reports.

Solution 3: Store IT assets offsite

If a six- or seven-figure cybersecurity solution isn’t currently in your budget, it may be best to first figure out how to minimize the damage of an attack. One service that we provide is storing a backup of IT assets offsite at our location. These IT assets are kept in a climate-controlled vault that is only accessible at a certain security level. And in the event of a data breach, we could have your backups to you within a few hours so you could start getting your school system back online. All this for less than $1,000 per year. Price that against the $12,000 per month Dothan Alabama was quoted for a cybersecurity solution. So while this couldn’t prevent a breach, it could drastically cut down on the amount of time to get back online.

This was a ransom note that came from one overseas hacker to a Montana school district: “We know everything about your schools and the children in them. We know who the problem children are, who the honor performing children are, and even who many of the parents are.”

Imagine if this was about your child or the children of your school district. Wouldn’t you want to do everything in your power to protect their information?

Let us help you by designing a program that fits your school system’s unique needs and budget with the ultimate goal of protecting these students.

 

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