Why educational institutions can’t rely on the cloud: a lesson in data security

Florian Malecki, international product marketing senior director at StorageCraft, discusses what what the sector should prioritise when it comes to keeping data secure and protected

As students and teachers increasingly embrace digital content, cloud services and online apps, it’s only natural that the amount of data educational institutions are dealing with grows exponentially. As millions of people all over the world suddenly need to work and study from their homes, we are witnessing the biggest shift to online learning the world has ever seen.

For education institutions to adapt to, and succeed in, this data-intensive reality, they need an efficient and affordable way to expand their storage needs while improving their data backup and recovery.

A thrifty business

It’s a well-known fact that in the face of extreme budget pressures, in general, the education sector is always on the lookout for new ways to do business more efficiently and at a lower cost. The cloud can often be a solution in this instance, as more and more institutions look to it to reduce expenses while gaining access to added robust features and functionality. Putting systems into the cloud means not having to operate an in-house datacenter or maintain a large IT workforce. As with any business, educational organisations want the cloud to be safer and want the cloud provider to be responsible for protecting your data.

StorageCraft recently commissioned an independent study by Dimension Research which found that 60% of educational institutions believe that data backed up to the public cloud is safer than data backed up on-premises. The study also revealed that another 60% of educational organisations believe it is the responsibility of their cloud provider to recover data and applications in the event of an attack or loss.

But are these institutions correct in their assumptions? Can and should educational institutions put their data protection needs solely in the hands of their cloud service provider, such as Google and AWS?

‘Securing data is the customer’s responsibility’

It’s true that core infrastructure and services are protected by top cloud providers like Google Cloud Platform, Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services (AWS). It’s their responsibility. But securing that data is the customer’s responsibility. Overlook this fact and the risk of experiencing a crippling and permanent loss of data, should anything ever happen to it, increases.

The education sector is a vital market for companies like Microsoft and Google. This means often, they provide their cloud apps, such as Office 356 and G Suite, to educational institutions for free, along with free accounts for all their students. With that in mind, it’s understandable that educational institutions might rely solely on Google/AWS for data protection and security. But that’s not the full truth. Data generated by the cloud app Microsoft Office 365 is one example worth examining. While it’s true that Microsoft guarantees the service, what it doesn’t do is guarantee the protection of the data you create when using Office 365.

Baseline data protection measures are in place on Office 365. A 30-day recycle bin lets users recover and restore deleted data within a 30-day period. This is useful because people often delete data and later find out they need it. However, that data is gone forever once the 30-day period ends, something that is spelt out in the fine print of Microsoft’s Services Agreement.

We strive to keep the Services up and running; however, all online services suffer occasional disruptions and outages, and Microsoft is not liable for any disruption or loss you may suffer as a result. In the event of an outage, you may not be able to retrieve Your Content or Data that you’ve stored. We recommend that you regularly backup Your Content and Data that you store on the Services or store using Third-Party Apps and Services.

Many schools are not entirely aware that they require extra protection to secure their data and recover it if it’s compromised or lost. That can result in very painful experiences, should data loss happen. Educational organisations store incredibly valuable data in the cloud, from student birthdates to test records, student banking information, Social Security numbers, and very likely research data. All of this data needs an additional level of protection and recovery capability given its sensitivity.

The threat of ransomware

There is another urgent reason that means the education sector should be taking data security and backup extra seriously: the increasing threat of ransomware. Just last year, a school in Wakefield had to close after a ransomware attack ‘disabled all their systems,’ while the same happened earlier this year at Scotland’s Dundee and Angus College as 5,000 students were asked to reset their passwords.

As with any other business today, for educational institutions, the reality is that it’s a matter of when a data-loss incident will occur, not if. That’s why it’s critical that they implement new strategies around data backup and recovery. Schools that make changes now put themselves in a far better position to quickly react to ransomware attacks and mitigate any damage.

So, what do schools need to do? Put simply, they need to take data security steps that go above and beyond the cloud, because when it comes to data security — whether the issue is a security breach, data corruption or even accidental data deletion — the burden is not on your cloud provider, it’s on you.

To survive in today’s digital world, educational institutions need cost-effective and robust ways to increase storage and ensure data backup and recovery. Fortunately for them, such solutions are in the market now, tools that, without busting the budget, allow educational institutions to easily and powerfully manage data storage and backup, in the cloud or on-premises.

Adding this extra, yet highly necessary layer of protection to your cloud data could be the difference between success and failure when it comes to your digital approach.

You might also like: Why adult learning can thrive through distance


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