By Erin Werra, edtech enthusiast and writer, Skyward.
One of the core tenants of FERPA states that student records should only be available to those who have a specific need to see them. On the other side of district operations, sensitive financial information can easily become fodder for fraud if it falls into the wrong hands.
There’s a lot of data to safeguard as a system administrator.
One strategy to explore is task-based roles in your student information system or enterprise resource planning system. How does this strategy keep your data safe? Let’s explore.
Roles vs. tasks
The first step is to define the difference between roles and tasks within the software.
Roles apply to the user and carry a specific set of permissions.
Tasks are actions available to the user, including screens in different areas of the software, and different data sets the user can access.
In some systems, the default method of assigning permissions (whether view or edit permissions) is based on an individual’s role in the organization. But what if users who share a role shouldn’t necessarily share access to the same screens, tasks, and data?
Task-based permission and least privilege
Rather than automatically assign everyone in a similar role the same permissions, consider instead which screens, data, and tasks people in those roles need to view. Consider the concept of least privilege: only the minimum necessary rights should be granted to maintain the highest level of security.
Let’s say, for example, a new administrative assistant needs to access data about demographics, attendance, and create new student profiles. The system administrator can create a role using those exact permissions, and then add the role to the related security group. This might mean all administrative assistants have similar, but not identical, permissions and are all part of the same security group.
This past year, K12 schools became the top targets of ransomware attacks. In August and September 2020, districts accounted for 57% of reported ransomware attacks. You know the threat is out there, but is your district prepared?
Nothing worth having is free. Create a strong plan when things are going well, and you’ll be grateful if disaster strikes.
Brilliant teams are run by people, not by machines. Salary, training, and planning fall under this category.
Has your security team grown in proportion with ransomware risks? According to CoSN’s 2020 EdTech Leadership survey, 69% of districts say they are proactive or very proactive—but less than 20% of respondents had a dedicated full-time employee responsible for cybersecurity. 46% listed it as a shared responsibility, 30% “part of the job,” and 10% ad-hoc. This means an overwhelming majority of school districts run the risk of cybersecurity missteps or passing the buck.
One study by ISC2, a professional IT organization, shows more than 4 million cybersecurity jobs are unfilled worldwide. Not only is this a potential blind spot, but it’s an opportunity for students pursuing STEM and computer science fields.
Know your data recovery options. Data hosting services may offer multiple options for backup and recovery, but multiple data centers should be a priority. Whether hosting offsite or in person, frequent backups are crucial.
Humans creating passwords is one of the weakest points of any network. Single sign-on uses multiple strategies to strengthen security, as well as makes logging on to the many, many different ed tech solutions any given district relies on much easier.
Constant vigilance is easier when training prompts frequent reminders. Your team members all possess wildly different levels of tech savviness—even the most grizzled veterans of the computer sciences benefit from security training updates. Security training creates a unified set of standards for everyone to follow and may even give you a baseline set of data, so you know where to add training.
Crisis communication templates
Hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and create templates when the worst is yet to come. Readers will appreciate calm, collected communication more than a slapdash letter in the event of a data breach.