Three Data Security Fundamentals for Remote Learning

Focus on hardware, OS, and application level precautions

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Nearly everyone is now working or studying from home. According to UNESCO, worldwide there are currently more than 1.2 billion children in 186 countries affected by school closures due to the pandemic.[1]

While that display of human resilience in response to the pandemic is indeed impressive, it does pose some additional data security challenges. Providing comprehensive data security for this new population of remote faculty and students is a combination of technology and policy, and the manner in which those two factors work together.

Policies across organizations are often similar in terms of governing what data to store, where to store it, how long to store it, and how to protect data at the endpoint. Educating staff and helping them adhere to those policies and processes is critical to ensure continued data security. And these processes are indeed supported by technology, so what are some of the critical elements of the technology infrastructure required to secure and properly manage data? And how can IT staff best train administrators and teachers as they begin remote learning in earnest; and best help students adjust to remote and hybrid learning?

“Information security is a process, not a product. There’s not a single product you can buy that gets you to acceptable security,” says Jeffrey Morgan, owner of Evolve Information Technology Services. He adds there are inexpensive products that you can combine with simple-to-implement processes to secure and manage your data. “If you only do one thing, it should be backup. If you can do two things—those should be backup and security. However, those are no longer separable. You have to do both, at a minimum, to protect your data,” he says.

Morgan describes three fundamental aspects of data security with which all school administrators and IT staff should be concerned and convey clearly when training teachers and helping students adjust to this new remote dynamic:

  1. Confidentiality: Your data must only available to you or other authorized users.
  2. Integrity: Your data cannot be altered by unauthorized users.
  3. Availability: Your data must always available to you, from anywhere, and at any time.

And to truly ensure data security means focusing on several components or layers of the technology infrastructure at the endpoint

  1. Hardware level: Especially built-in security like BIOS protection firmware, and the router.
  2. Computer/OS level: Your immediate connection to the network, as well as your firewall and antivirus software.
  3. Application level: Your password manager, encrypted connections, and any other Internet-facing applications.

With this focus in mind, many remote students—as well as their teachers, administrators, and parents—are wondering how to best secure their systems when they’re learning both at home and in school. There are two aspects to this hybrid setting. “If students are in school, their Ethernet or wireless connection is managed by the university or school IT staff and they have little control over that,” says Morgan. “When they are home, though, they can control the environment to a larger extent.”

To boost home network security, adding a firewall/router/wireless router to the device provided by the contracted ISP (Internet Service Provider) provides an extra layer of protection that gives home users more fine-grained control of security behind the ISP connection. Another simple and inexpensive device to consider is a network attached storage device. Morgan recommends a RAID 1 device; which contains two mirrored hard disks. “If one disk fails, the other one probably still works and has all your data,” he says. “If the device itself fails, you can replace it and put the hard disks in.”

And finally, with students moving back and forth between home and school, where should their data live? Morgan recommends both, but with a single data protection process. Automating daily backups to create two separate backups every afternoon can help streamline this tactic.

1 https://en.unesco.org/covid19/educationresponse

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