Protecting School Data

Disaster recovery isn’t child’s play.

GUEST COLUMN | by Mike Grossman

CREDIT Zetta img.pngWithout doubt, one of the most feared keywords now is ransomware. School districts are increasingly becoming a target for cyber attackers who, thanks to under-funded school security budgets, are able to hack into school district networks and demand payment to release privacy-sensitive student, family and staff data.

K-12 school districts can be challenged in obtaining funding for improvements in data security since they do not have the more robust funding sources of higher learning institutions, or universities associated with medical centers. As a result, K-12 cyber security issues typically get lower priority in budget decisions than basic items such as funding school bus operations or facility repairs.

Here are a few refinements for school IT staff to be thinking about to better secure sensitive data.

At the same time, unfortunately, K-12 school districts are becoming an increasingly popular target for cyber attacks, resulting in more data breaches. None of us can stop cyber attackers from trying to disrupt school district operations, or prevent disruptive events caused by natural disasters or power outages, but what school IT staff and administrators can do is take a fresh look at their current data protection and disaster recovery solutions. They should examine whether they have the best preventive measures possible and are spending their, albeit somewhat limited, data security budgets wisely.

In the event of a cyber attack, a naturally occurring disruptive event, or human error, how school district data is protected and recoverable is key to returning, as soon as possible, to a normal day of teaching and serving students. The cloud offers a number of advantages for data recovery. Here are a few refinements for school IT staff to be thinking about to better secure sensitive data:

  1. Cloud-based disaster recovery (DR).  Thanks to advancements in data transfer technologies, larger data sets can now be securely replicated to a cloud-based datacenter with exceptional speed. If the school’s primary server fails, IT staff can instantly “spin up” a version of the server in the cloud and run operations just as they normally would by using the cloud-based version of the data. Once the failed server is back online, IT can easily restore the most current data from the cloud.
  2. Direct-to-Cloud Fights Ransomware.  A direct-to-cloud backup solution can employ continuous third party vulnerability scans and industry standard SSL encryption, to further secure data and protect student and staff privacy. In the event of a cyber attack, direct-to-cloud means the data is still secure and recoverable from the cloud, without having to pay a ransom to cyber criminals.
  3. Physical and Virtual Servers and Applications in the Cloud. If a school district is using both physical and virtual servers, it needs to be able to run both types of servers and applications from the cloud. Having this complete DR approach provides the best means of quickly returning to a regular workflow.
  4. Appliance-Free DR.  When a disruptive event occurs, it’s best to avoid having a physical appliance between the server and the cloud connection. It can cost schools valuable recovery time if they have to replace the appliance before restoring a server.
  5. Platform Flexibility.  School IT staff typically manages a wide variety of technology programs and needs a DR solution that can accommodate this diversity. Look for backup software that delivers the flexibility needed to retrieve files, regardless of which server or computer stores the data.
  6. Cost Control.  Budget-strapped school districts can achieve cost efficiencies by employing a software-driven backup and recovery approach. Rather than rely on expensive hardware investments, the direct-to-cloud strategy gives schools a scalable, affordable pricing option.
  7. Reliability.  One thing an IT person does not want to worry about is whether important data that needs to be backed up, is in fact, backed up. School IT staff, during the day, needs to attend to helping students learn through technology, and supporting teacher administrative needs. They want backup and recovery taken care of, reliably, and within the ‘backup window’ they designate. Technology that includes advanced change detection and an efficient storage backend are two of the attributes to look for in choosing a backup and recovery solution.

K-12 school districts need stronger preventive measures to protect sensitive data against cyber attacks. Knowing that budgets are tight, the best approach is to take a hard look now at their backup and recovery systems, make sure they are doing the job they’re supposed to do, and, budget permitting, work to develop a cloud-based strategy that will better protect their valuable data resources.

Mike Grossman is the CEO of Zetta and an expert in cloud-based data protection, and online backup and disaster recovery.

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