Everything you need to know about securing your school
What is network security?
Schools today are interconnected in ways never seen before. It’s not just about paper, pencils, and blackboards anymore. Instead, modern schools are very much run on different types of technologies, including products like school management systems. These technologies run on networks because they are all connected with one another. Network security refers to the processes and policies in place at a school that controls their accessibility (in binaries and also in terms of degrees). The goal of network security is to prevent the misuse, monitor access to, and modify or deny access as necessary to a computer or computer networks within the school. Simply put, it is the rules schools follow to ensure their computer systems, networks or technology assets remain secure from unauthorized access and use by malicious elements.
What is the importance of network security?
The idea of network security existing at schools may seem excessive to laypeople – why would something as benign as an educational institution have to think of something like this?
Wouldn’t network security be the domain of institutions in banking or national importance?
While such institutions might be a better fit, it would be foolhardy to dismiss the security needs and concerns of schools out of hand. These days, schools have a lot of sensitive information about their employees, parents and most importantly students. This includes information about grades and scores that track a student’s academic progress. But that is not all it is limited to. Schools also have very sensitive information like how to contact a student and their parents, where they live, what bus routes they take, what school activities they are involved in. It is also possible, in some cases, to extrapolate this information to figure out student sensitivities, which can then be manipulated by malicious elements to their advantage. The importance of network security at schools thus cannot be overstated.
How to Improve Network Security in Small K-12 Schools?
Ensuring network security at your school is a comprehensive task – there is no one process or policy that will take care of it entirely. It is important that schools treat this as an intrinsic part of their rules and regulations, rather than an add on. When the principle of network security is integrated into the school’s day to day functioning, that is when it becomes more infallible.
Below we have highlighted some ways, using which schools can enhance their network security :
- Eliminate Paper-based Process
Paper-based processes are endemic to the educational ecosystem. Every cliched visual of a school will feature textbooks, notepaper, circulars, notices, pen and paper note-taking, etc. – it is practically inescapable. But we are now in the most advanced technological age, and it makes sense that increasingly paper is being phased out. Students already rely on using their personal computers to take notes and make presentations, so why is this not being addressed to the administration of a school?
Using technological tools like a school management system helps eliminate paper-based processes that are a security risk. Information stored on paper – like files, folders, important copies of mark sheets and bank statements, etc – is easily accessed, copied and distributed, even by malicious elements. A locked cupboard cannot keep everyone out and we are relying on fallible humans for our security. Instead, password-protected information ensures that only the right people with the correct permissions can access sensitive information. Some school management systems also track the actions of each user so these can be pulled up later if needed.
- Keep Safe Confidential Data about Student and Staff
System for school management is the ideal platform that can keep confidential data about student and staff safe. Unlike files or human memory, the information remains where you left it and can only be accessed by people with the right permissions that have been granted after careful review. The school management system also has an archive of actions taken by all users which can be pulled up in case we need to find out who is accessing what information and when. This is also information that does not deteriorate over time, since it is stored electronically, not in files or folders. One can rely on the school management system to keep confidential data confidential and safe for a long time.
- Implement Unified Platform to Monitor Daily Processes and Loophole in the System
A school management system tracks the actions of all users in the system and stores this information in its user history. This means that it is easier to monitor and track what each user is doing within the school management system if needed. In the case of malicious elements, it establishes a chain of evidence of the movements and intent of users who may be trying to access the information they should not have access to.
This is also a good way of identifying gaps or loopholes in a system – if many users use workarounds or alternative methods to access the information they usually do not have permissions to access, being able to track their movements helps identify these workarounds. In some cases, this inaccessibility might be a result of an error in the system itself. In this case, it is a quick way to identify this gap and rectify it immediately in order to make processes smoother.
- Enforcing 2-factor Authentication
As humans, we are all fallible and the case is no different for students and staff at a school. Despite moving to technological solutions, student and staff may often indulge in bad security habits, such as reusing the same password for everything. They might not realize the importance of school security and feel like this is just another piece of information to remember. By enabling two-factor authentication, the dangerousness of this is mitigated, because users are forced to use their regular password and also the code sent to their phones in order to access their network. This 2 step password protection decreases the risk that user accounts will be accessed easily by malicious elements who may use these weak accounts in order to harm students and staff.
Two-factor authentication also is a good policy for staff and students since it alerts them to anyone trying to access their accounts without their knowledge. Most systems also provide location information about where this attempt took place, which helps narrow down who the person trying to access the account could be. Such kind of information is useful in taking preventative action to improve network security at a school also. 2-factor authentication enables a mindset change within school staff and students by making them a part of the network security system – this kind of empowerment makes them more aware of their role in ensuring network security at the school and makes them feel more responsible and accountable for it also.
- Provide Secure Payment Platforms
One of the areas in which school staff, students, and parents are inherently careful about is financial transactions being made through the school management system. Whether this is online transactions like through a payment gateway or services like PayTM, RazorPay, PayU, etc, or offline through the point of sale transactions, users are automatically more careful when it comes to their money. School management systems are aware of this and provide secure payment gateways with receipts and messages that make a user aware that their financial transaction has gone through or whether there has been an error in the transaction. This ensures that users are aware of what is happening and can take appropriate action according to the message they have received. The financial information of users of a school management system must be kept secure and the in-built security measures of the software ensure that.
- Educate Staff and Students in the Importance of Security
All measures and rules and policies and processes put in place by the school are useless without buy-in from the users of networks in the school. This means that when staff, students, and parents at a school do not understand the importance of network security, all technology and protective methods put in place are for naught. It is thus key to impress upon all stakeholders in the educational ecosystem the importance of network security so that they adhere to the rules and regulations being put in place with regards to this. A good method of doing this is to have regular training and refresher courses where the tenets of network security and the consequence of not following them are clearly laid out. Informed users are aware users who will then be careful and mindful about their security as they interact with the school’s network.
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