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How Educational Institutions Can Protect Sensitive Student Data

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Almost all of the schools and other educational institutions rely on enormous amounts of school records for their smooth functioning. School records are at the heart of many processes in schools and in higher education. A school must maintain a complete, cumulative record of students’ personal data, transcripts, grades and course from the time of admission, certificates or awards, attendance records, immunization records, disciplinary records, medical issues, test scores, records of classes taken and grades received. When schools rely on paper records, they face cumbersome administrative processes, high storage costs and lack of efficiency. So to manage the ever-growing school records, the best solution is to digitize them with the services of a document conversion company. Apart from making document management easy, modern digital technologies such as such as video presentations, power point presentations, e-learning etc., have brought more efficiency into how students learn and imbibe knowledge.

Educational Institutions Can Protect Sensitive Student Data

Once all the data is digitized, it can be preserved in storage devices or cloud storage system. The data can be encrypted to ensure limited access to it. Digitization services help to streamline retention requirement processes, easily integrate student records with student information systems and help protect student data.

FERPA: A Federal Law to Protect Students Data

To ensure the safety of students’ educational and personal family record, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), a federal law, was passed in 1974. It allows parents specific rights with respect to their children’s educational records, and access to review or comment on the results. Educational organizations must have written permission from the parents to release any information from a student’s educational record.

Every year, state or federal legislative bodies introduce more regulations to protect student data. If schools don’t comply, federal funding is at risk and non-compliance will also result in a hefty fine, with an average cost of $245 per breached record. The following are three federal regulations that schools must consider to secure student data.

  • Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA): This law applies to instructional materials, student surveys and evaluations funded by the federal government that deal with very sensitive issues. Parents have the right of written consent before their children are required to participate.
  • Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). The main goal of HIPAA’s Privacy Rule is to ensure that individuals’ health information is protected and also allows the flow of health information required for providing high-quality healthcare.
  • Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). The objective of COPPA is to allow parents to control what information is collected online about children who are below 13 years of age. The law applies to websites, online services, and programs and apps that collect, use, or disclose children’s personally identifiable information (PII) at home or school.

Apart from these federal laws, most states follow their own set of data security and privacy laws for schools. As of April 2019, 40 U.S. states had passed 116 laws, with more state regulations predicted to come in the near future. Effective policies and regulations at both the state and federal levels can help ensure that student data is used for its intended purpose-to support student learning.

Best practices to protect privileged access to student records and vulnerability management of operating systems and applications are vested with the IT and security staffs of management. But the challenge here is not keeping the database safe; the question is who should have access to this database and for how long. Usually, in an educational institution, there may be many data safety issues such as non-rotating password, stale user accounts, legacy application without support etc and all of this leads to poor IT management controls and put student data at risk.

So here are three steps educational institutions can adopt to protect student records.

  • Vulnerability Management: It ensures that from operating system and application, to router, switch, and HVAC all security patches are applied and tested regularly for new threats.
  • Privileged Access Management: It is a strategy or technological solution to remove administrator rights from all backend and supporting user systems. It uses segmented access using proxy or password safe technology along with full session monitoring, auditing, and reporting.
  • Education: Make sure that the team members are educated about the latest cyber security threats from ransomware to phishing. The next step is to understand how modern (and legacy) attacks occur, they are better prepared to architecture, configure, and defend against them within the intuition. Providing free information technology security training videos help staff and students understand and be warned against the latest security threats.

Following are some of the best practices that schools can follow to identify data threats and prevent them.

  • Limit access and all log activity.
  • Divide vital information like SSN number across various databases
  • Limit administrator access
  • Have network and application segmentation
  • Encrypt the data at rest and in transit.

It has become very important for educators and institutions to understand the law and follow the best practices to protect student data. Data encryption is one of the most important information security policies that can maintain the student’s privacy. For implementing data encryption, educational institutions must first convert all forms of student data into digital format. Many schools face the problem of storing and managing the school records for a long period of time. This problem can be resolved by converting these records into digital form. With the help of a reliable and experienced provider of document conversion services and their special equipment, trained technicians can quickly convert all data into the desired digital format at affordable rates. Keeping this information in a centralized repository with a user-friendly, searchable index makes it easier to access data. This can result in a more precise retention schedule and help to improve the records management policy of educational institutions while also ensuring student data privacy.

About Julie Clements

Julie Clements

Joined the MOS team in March of 2008. Julie Clements has background in the healthcare staffing arena; as well as 6 years as Director of Sales and Marketing at a 4 star resort. Julie was instrumental in the creation of the medical record review division (and new web site); and has especially grown this division along with data conversion of all kinds.