Education systems have to process mass volumes of current and historic data daily, with a lot of it being highly confidential and sensitive - regardless of whether it’s a local preschool with a pupil count of 500 or a sprawling university campus with 20,000 students. Regardless of the school’s setting, size, and population count, keeping data safe against loss is an imperative.
Data loss, failure, or damage can be a result of a range of events, including system, hardware, and software failures, data corruption, instances of accidents and human error, and direct malicious attacks such as DDoS or ransomware attacks.
One of the best ways that educational institutions can mitigate the risk of accidental or malicious data loss is by implementing a backup and recovery solution. Backup and recovery solutions duplicate data and store copies of it that can be utilized in the event of disaster to mitigate data loss. Backup copies of data can be stored either physically or virtually, with the latter often being the cloud – most important, they’re stored away and isolated from main data centers and storage units to ensure they stay protected in the event of disaster or attack. When needed, data that has been compromised can be restored at an earlier point, meaning systems, workflows, and productivity can continue without too much interruption or negative effect.
In this guide, we’ll detail the importance of backup and recovery for education institutions. We’ll explore the key features you should look for in a backup and recovery solution and give our recommendation on the best solution for your business.
Why Do You Need To Back Up Your Data?
Schools, colleges, and universities have a lot of data to handle and keep safe. A lot of the data that educational bodies handle on a day to day basis is not only large but incredibly precious and confidential. It includes financial information, educational information, exam results, medical information, student information and details, faculty and staff information and details, and much more. This amounts to a large volume of data that needs to be protected and kept track of, and having a backup and recovery solution in place ensures that in the event of a disaster, there is a reduced amount of downtime and workload in restoring this data.
It is also key for educational bodies to keep this data guarded and safe as possible, particularly when it comes to sensitive information such as student details including addresses, contact numbers, parent information and trusted guardians–exactly the kind of information that should not fall into the wrong hands.
With this in mind, there are a few other pertinent reasons as to why all educational bodies, from preschool to grad school and everywhere in between, need to have a robust and properly maintained backup and recovery plan in place.
Backup And Recovery For Protection Against Data Loss
Having a strong, properly configured backup and recovery solution in place can help protect and remediate instances of data loss caused by cyberattacks, human error, and natural disasters.
It was recently revealed that, since 2005, 2,691 successful security breaches and attacks on schools in the USA have resulted in 32 million records being leaked. Schools are often a prime focus for attackers, who tend to correctly assume that their targets won’t have enough resources, staffing, and finance to dedicate towards cybersecurity.
Educational bodies, preschools and high schools in particular, often handle and store personal, private information about their pupils. This can be their addresses and their known parents and guardians. However, it can also include highly sensitive and confidential information such as their medical issues, teachers’ notes on behavior, intellectual disabilities, instances of bullying, and homelife situations.
Earlier in 2023, the Los Angeles Unified School District revealed that 2000 student assessment records were posted on the dark web after a recent cyberattack, affecting 60 currently enrolled students. These records personally identifiable information, such as highly sensitive records on the pupils’ mental health, detailed medical histories, disciplinary records, and their academic performance. Not only has this put both current and former students at risk of harm, it also could cloud their applications moving forward to other schools, colleges, or even jobs, permanently affecting pupils’ futures.
And it’s not just your local preschool that is coming under threat.
Recently, the prestigious Stanford University disclosed that they had suffered a data breach that affected applicants to one of their graduate programs, violating their privacy and their rights.
Files that contained applicants’ admission information to the Economics Ph.D. program were downloaded from Stanford’s website between December 2022 and January 2023. 897 prospective students who had submitted their personal and health information as part of their graduate school application were notified by the university via a data breach notification letter.
A spokesperson for Stanford University revealed that the department had been notified of the breach in late January, finding that the folder that contained the application forms for the 2022/23 academic year had been easily available through the department’s website due to a misconfiguration of the folder’s settings.
It comes as a heavy blow on all accounts. Firstly, the prospective students, whose sensitive information was breached, and their privacy violated. And secondly, Stanford. Not only did they experienced a highly damaging and catastrophic breach, but it affected individuals both inside and outside their department, of which they are now liable, and may have damaged their credibility as a prestigious institution.
And data loss, damage, and breaches don’t have to be as a result of a cyberattack and malicious intent; sometimes, accidents and faults do just happen. In 2021, Kyoto University reported a staggering loss of 77 terabytes of data due to an error in its backup system of its Hewlett-Packard supercomputer, resulting in mass loss of important research files and data, impacting students and staff alike. The fault ensured a loss of 34 million files from 14 research groups being lost from not only the system, but the backup files as well.
Shortly after the loss, Kyoto University stopped their backup processes and resolved to scrap their existing backup system and replace it with another, with some improvements such as blending backup methods, adding incremental backups alongside full backup mirrors.
While it’s clear that having a backup solution in place isn’t going to be a cure all - breaches and losses are still going to happen, no matter how good your cybersecurity stack and structure are - having a properly configured and securebackup and recovery solution ensures that in the event of disaster, damage is mitigated and operations can resume as best as they can. Backup and recovery solutions, if properly maintained, secured, and kept separate from main systems, can restore files in the event of accidental deletion, system failures, and ransomware attacks.
Backup And Recovery For Compliance
Backup and recovery solutions and processes are absolutely crucial in maintaining productivity, reputation, and operational processes when something goes wrong. But aside from being a “smart option” in terms of minimizing the effect of data loss, backup and recovery solutions can also help many educational organizations–schools, colleges, universities included–comply with data protection and privacy requirements.
Having a robust, secure backup solution is required in order for education organizations and institutions to stay compliant with a range of data protection standards concerning children’s welfare, such as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA).
FERPA refers to the federal legislation that allows parents to access their child’s educational records, the right to request for this record to be amended, and to have control over the disclosure of any personally identifiable information from these records. While it does not refer nor require educational institutions to employ specific security controls and tools, it is clear that security breaches and data losses pose a serious threat to student safety and can negatively impact their futures. Successful breaches can violate FERPA, so implementing tools that mitigate and prevent are important.
COPPA refers to the way information on minors under the age of 13 is handled online; COPPA is applicable to online services, mobile apps, and websites that collect information on children, and dictates how this information should be collected and used to ensure children are kept safe and their data kept confidential. Again, this does not specifically dictate that schools and universities should deploy a backup and recovery solution, but COPPA requires that educational bodies need to establish and maintain reasonable procedures in order to protect children’s information by keeping it confidential and secure.
After the recent slew of cyberattacks levelled at schools, the government’s Federal Student Aid (FSA) office has recommended that schools establish a way to backup data, making sure this data is stored offline but is still accessible in order to keep student data safe.
What Features Should You Look For In A Backup And Recovery Solution?
Educational organizations should implement a strong and secure backup and recovery solution to help them recover and stay compliant in the event of accidental or malicious data loss. Features that should be present and robust to offer comprehensive data protection and storage are
Point-in-time backups allow admins to restore data to a specified point in time. Backups can be created as often as needed, such as hourly or daily.
Granular Search Capabilities
A granular search tool helps admins easily locate individual pieces of data to restore or export them, which is especially useful in cases of accidental deletion of a singular file. This should include a filter (e.g., data type, date, owner, location) and a keyword search.
Compliance And Auditing
Backup solutions should meet the strict compliance regulations for a range of regulatory bodies, should adhere to state and national guidelines, and should have a range of features to enable auditing. For educational institutions, the most important features to help ensure compliance include data encryption, role-based access controls, a detailed log of user activities, multi-factor authentication (MFA), and secure data exports/sharing.
There should be a range of options for restoration of both singular files and full systems, and admins should be able to restore data to its original location or to another specified location.
Retention Periods And Storage Limits
These aspects need to be tailored per your organization. Generally, for US schools, FERPA dictates that schools should keep temporary student information such as attendance records for at least five years after a student leaves the school. Permanent records, such as grades and certificates, must be kept for at least 60 years. This amounts to a long time and a large amount of data, so finding a solution that keeps in line with decades-long retention periods and offers unlimited and expanding storage limits is key. You should also be able to set different retention periods for different types of data being backed up.
Additional Security Features
Additional extras that enhance security are also important. Certain solutions will offer encryption of data at rest and in transit, MFA and 2FA, role-based access controls, and more.
It’s important to ensure your chosen solution integrates well with your existing environment and is easily deployed, integrated, and scaled. You may also wish to look for a provider that offers onboarding support, to help you deploy and configure the solution correctly.
Our Recommendation: CloudAlly
Constant Edge has partnered with CloudAlly to provide educational institutions with robust, compliant backup and recovery services. CloudAlly is a leading figure in the backup space. Founded in 2011, it was one of the first cloud-to-cloud backup services for Google and Salesfrorce. Later, in 2014, they introduced their Microsoft Office 365 cloud backup solution.
Backup And Recovery
CloudAlly Backup and Recovery offers robust ransomware protection through strong backups and fast and simplified recovery. Backups are immutable, meaning that backed up data cannot be altered, manipulated or deleted. In the event of a ransomware attack, admins can quickly recover it from any point in time and at any granular level. Data protection is comprehensive, with any type of data protected in any type of environment. It also provides unlimited storage–a particularly attractive feature for schools where data will continue to grow exponentially day by day.
Brute force, phishing, and other email-borne attacks are the main ways hackers breach security measures and get their hands on your data, and a large contributing factor to these types of data breaches is poorly maintained access control. CloudAlly implements best practices for access and security, including multi-factor authentication and two-factor authentication, password protection, vulnerability management, patch management, and password and access key rotation, and the automatic addition and deletion of users.
Admins are able to easily manage access and permissions and can create single and restricted use and access for auditing reasons. The platform also supports Okta integration for single sign-on. These aspects ensure that no user can access anything more than they need–an aspect and oversight of security that often leads to breaches and leaks.
CloudAlly ensures your school, college, or university remains compliant with a range of critical regulations including ISO 270001 certification, GDPR, ERPA, HIPAA, GLBA, FISMA, RFR, and PCI DSS. It offers pervasive protection by storing data on secure Amazon AWS S3 storage units with powerful AES encryption at rest and in transit to protect data.
CloudAlly also offers global data centers in the US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Germany, and Australia to help meet compliance requirements regarding data sovereignty.
Compatibility And Environments
No single school environment is the same, which is why CloudAlly has a range of backup solution options that integrate into any infrastructure and environment your educational body is using, including Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace–two of the most widely used systems in education. Backup solutions for DropBox, Box, and Salesforce are also available.
Educational bodies, particularly preschools and K12 schools, don’t necessarily always have the budget to dedicate towards state-of-the-art cybersecurity. However, failing to backup and protect the security of pupils, staff, and faculty is a serious issue and all schools and colleges’ valuable data, such as application information, student records, research, assessment details, alumni data, and more need to be kept secure. With this in mind, CloudAlly has discounted pricing plans for educational institutions so your organization can deliver best-in-class security without schools needing to go over budget. This means schools can deliver education and provide support for pupils without fearing a breach and pupils’ private information is kept how it should be–private.
Data Retention And Restoration
CloudAlly can retain data for as long as is needed, with unlimited storage, ensuring that your school or college will be able to meet retention requirements and will not have to adjust the solution as the volume of data increases over time. It also provides anytime, anywhere non-destructive restoration from any point in time, granular level, or across users to any storage no matter what storage (such as Amazon S3, Azure, and the Google Cloud Platform). Restoration can be performed for singular pieces of data and files in instances where only a small amount of data is lost.
Secure Your Data With Constant Edge
Backup and recovery solutions are critical in not only preventing data breaches but mitigating them as well. Backups in both the cloud and in separate units in on-prem data centers offer robust security in that the data stored there cannot be deleted by ransomware, malicious insider or outsider attacks, accidentally, or through a system fault. Strong and resilient cloud backup providers, such as CloudAlly, offer enhanced security, resilience, compliance, and fast recovery in the event of disaster.
If you represent an educational institution looking for a secure, compliant backup and recovery solution, we can help. Constant Edge has a team of data protection specialists who understand the importance of backup for education and can advise you on the best solution to secure your data. Get in touch with our team to learn more.