We live in an increasingly connected world with more capabilities than ever before at our fingertips, and it’s making many jobs out there a lot more dynamic. Education is no exception to this trend, though teachers and administrators will likely use these online tools for much different purposes compared to private businesses. Even so, online technology gives teachers the ability to hone their skills and reach students in increasingly effective ways. These advantages, however, do come with a downside. As more teachers do much of their work online in the cloud, the risk for security problems grows. And since schools work with valuable student data, the possibility of a security breach is very real and potentially disastrous.
There are a number of ways student data could be compromised through teacher accounts. The one most people have heard of is hacking. This essentially means an outside attacker has infiltrated the system and has gotten unauthorized access to the teacher’s account. From that account, a hacker can get further access to data and personal information. Another way student data could be affected is by having a teacher get locked out of his or her account. Most of the time, a lockout is a defensive measure taken by the system when it detects suspicious activity. It can be helpful when an actual threat is detected, but if it’s triggered by mistake, data loss and other leaks may result.
With these threats posing real security question for schools, teachers need to know how best to protect their personal data along with data of their students. That protection can only start when done with their own accounts. One area where teachers should place more focus is in making their passwords stronger. Far too often, people will overlook the importance of their passwords and how vital it is in keeping attackers from hacking into their accounts. A strong password can frustrate hackers and make them look elsewhere for an easier target. But what makes a strong password? The first technique is to make a password that is at least eight character long or longer. A password should also avoid common words or terms that are related to the account user’s life (so no birthdays, places of birth, or pet names, for example). Passwords also need to contain numbers, capital letters, and symbols, making them that much harder for hackers to guess. All teachers should use different passwords for every account they have. That way, if one password is cracked, the other accounts won’t be compromised.
Another area teachers should reexamine is their online behavior. When logged into their school account, teachers may end up browsing the internet. When doing this, teachers need to make sure to only go to websites that are secure. They should especially avoid suspicious websites, since unsecure websites have a greater chance of downloading malware to the user’s computer, which may in turn spread to the rest of the network. With the recent discovery of the Heartbleed bug, only using secure websites on a school account is more important than ever. Secure sites take advantage of encryption, which is represented by an “https” address and the graphic of a padlock in the address bar.
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Backing up data is also an important strategy for anyone aiming to protect valuable information. Many people may choose to do this by saving data to the cloud, and while Cloud computing does have benefits, additional backups should also be made on a physical hard drive. Data can also be sent to a separate, safe account. However teachers do it, the important thing is that a backup of the data is at the ready in case an account is compromised. As an additional benefit, backed up data can also be used to recover quickly from an emergency or disaster unrelated to security breaches. In any case, regularly backing up account files is a must for teachers looking to protect student data.
Security breaches have unfortunately become a lot more common in recent years. While the headlines may focus on major corporations, schools are still a target for cyber attacks. Protecting student and teacher data isn’t just a matter of common sense, it’s a privacy issue. If teachers make greater efforts to secure data, they’ll have more confidence that information will be kept safe and be able to fully utilize the wonderful tools available on the cloud. The overall effect will be a better education for students of all ages.
Rick Delgado- I’ve been blessed to have a successful career and have recently taken a step back to pursue my passion of freelance writing. I love to write about new technologies and keeping ourselves secure in a changing digital landscape. I occasionally write articles for several companies, including Dell.
(Image credit: Matthew Paulson)