The ‘3rd platform’ is the latest step in the evolution of technology, and has had a big impact on the way we think about technology and the way we work, teach and learn. As a result, IT managers need to change the way they address IT security in schools to ensure that the evolution of technology in the classroom does not introduce vulnerabilities to the school’s network or, most importantly, risk students’ online safety.
What is the 3rd platform?
Let’s take a moment to go back to basics. Technology started with the ‘1st platform’ that consisted of mainframe and terminal technology, and computer hardware. This platform then began to support the Internet and operating systems that are referred to as the ‘2nd platform’. Now, on top of that, we have the ‘3rd platform’, which contains the latest concepts in technology such as cloud, mobile technologies, big data and social technology.
Today, these ‘3rd platform’ technologies feature heavily in the way schools operate, communicate and educate, with students and teachers accessing work from home, using smart phones to access school networks, and sending documents from and to a number of devices. The world of chalkboards, notepads and encyclopedias is now just a hazy memory for many of us!
With the availability of knowledge at the click of a mouse or swipe of a screen, the way that schools are engaging with students has evolved dramatically. It is now not uncommon to see a classroom full of eleven-year-olds tapping away on laptops, taking notes while the teacher explains algebra with the help of an online podcast. As in any industry, schools are making technology work for them, and the question facing IT managers is no longer ‘what can we do with the technology we have?’ but rather: ‘what technology do we need to engage and educate our students?’.
While this maturation in our approach to IT provides schools with new and exciting ways of working, it also requires a change in the way the security of schools’ data is protected. As we all know, a password is no longer enough to safeguard our private information from theft or misuse, especially when teachers and students are accessing this information not only on school computers but also remotely, from unsecured devices and in unsecured locations. Therefore, the way in which school IT networks are managed and secured needs to be changed in order to keep up with the developments of the ‘3rd platform’.
What are the risks?
Remote working is considered to be the largest security threat facing businesses today, with a survey by Freeform Dynamics (commissioned by Barracuda Networks) revealing that 43 percent of businesses think that employees connecting to their network remotely causes a very high or high security threat. While mobile working, such as the ability to access work emails on the train or mark a student’s homework online from home, does indeed pose a threat to the security of school data by creating a number of access points for malicious attacks, the internal security threats should not be underestimated. With students now familiar with an array of applications and websites that enable them to work, communicate and download files to the school’s network, the threat may just as easily come from inside the school walls.
Schools’ IT managers must therefore move away from the idea that the perimeter of the network is the area that needs protection, and start looking at the application perimeter as a whole instead, in order to safeguard school networks from cyber attacks and security breaches. IT departments need to think outside the school walls and move beyond the ‘network perimeter mind-set’ to embrace the ‘application perimeter’ approach to network security.
The security solution
Whilst the ‘3rd platform’ plays host to many exciting developments in technology which are transforming the way schools operate, it is important not to neglect the security of the foundations – the 1st and 2nd ‘platforms’. Devices such as firewalls, load balancers, and application delivery controllers can be deployed to protect both internal and external resources. This will ensure that staff and students working remotely through the network do not cause disruptive traffic or compromise the school’s IT security.
However, technology is only part of the solution. The rest is the responsibility of users. All educational staff and students should be trained and guided in their use of new ‘3rd platform’ technologies both in and out of school to ensure that their behaviour never puts school data – or students’ security – at risk. Simply educating students about the importance of password protection and not following suspicious links can go a long way in ensuring they get the most out of technology and are able to work and learn in a secure online environment.