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Cybersecurity Best Practices for Educational Institutions



School

Over the past two decades, schools have transitioned from analog learning to digital learning. Students, teachers, and staff use technology for many important tasks, from completing assignments to daily communication. 


Technology helps schools run more efficiently and gives students access to a world of information at their fingertips. However, it also presents some unique cybersecurity risks, and you’ll need to have a strategy in place to prevent them. Here are the cybersecurity best practices all educational institutions should implement to stay safe online. 


1. Provide cybersecurity education for students and staff. 


When your student body and staff are unaware of cybersecurity best practices, it puts your school’s entire network at risk. To prevent this, have your IT department provide basic cybersecurity education for both employees and students. Depending on the size of your school, you could do this with in-person training sessions or an online course. 


These courses should cover things like creating strong passwords, protecting sensitive data, and avoiding suspicious emails. Sharing this important information will help your entire school community stay safe while learning online. Be sure to send email updates as your team learns about new cyber threats.  


2. Keep student data stored safely. 


Most schools collect personal information about their students, such as birthdays, addresses, and even credit card details. This information is necessary for administrative purposes, but it’s also very valuable and makes your school a target of cybercriminals. If this sensitive data is breached, it will put your student body at risk and damage your school’s reputation. These data breaches are also financially devastating, costing higher education organizations an average of $3.7 million in 2023


To prevent this from happening, make sure all student data is stored on a secure server. Only those with administrative privileges should have access to the server. These credentials should be reviewed periodically, keeping access limited only to those who need it. Add firewalls to these servers as an extra layer of protection.


3. Enforce strong password practices.


All of your school’s systems should be password-protected. Enforce good password hygiene by requiring passwords to be at least 12 characters long, with a combination of upper- and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols. 


Additionally, use two-factor authentication for more security. Two-factor authentication requires users to login with both their password and a secure one-time code, which is sent to their email or phone number. This means that even if a hacker cracks your password, they still wouldn’t be able to access your account. 


4. Use secure Wi-Fi networks on campus. 


Your student body relies heavily on on-campus Wi-Fi networks for online learning. However, Wi-Fi networks can be an entry point for hackers, so you’ll need to take steps to secure them. Each network should be encrypted to prevent outsiders from spying on your web traffic. 


Create separate networks for guests and internal users. Depending on the size of your campus, you may need multiple internal networks as well. This helps with security and will help you handle large volumes of web traffic when necessary. 


5. Update your systems regularly. 


Hackers are always searching for vulnerabilities in the hardware and software you use. Developers put out updates and patches regularly to fix these vulnerabilities and keep your system safe. Installing updates as they become available is an important part of an airtight security strategy. 


Schedule these updates ahead of time so your IT department can prepare. Ideally, updates should happen during school breaks or during the night. This minimizes the inconvenience for students and teachers 


6. Work with IT experts to set up system monitoring. 


24/7 system monitoring is key to catching cyber threats early on. Put system monitoring solutions in place to alert you right away to potential dangers. This way, you can take steps to correct the problem before it gets out of hand. 


Work with your IT team to put strict monitoring procedures in place. If your school doesn’t have any in-house IT experts, bring in a managed service provider to handle this for you. MSPs are third-party IT experts that offer a wide range of support services. 


7. Have a data breach response plan. 


Even if your school is very vigilant about cybersecurity, you could still experience a data breach. Create a response plan detailing exactly how you’ll respond to any data breaches that happen. This should detail exactly how you plan to back up sensitive data, inform students and staff, and regain control of your systems.

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