Today’s data-security lesson: educational institutions can’t rely on the cloud

Top cloud providers do protect core infrastructure and services. But it is the customer’s responsibility to secure that data.
Data safety
It's your responsibility to secure data

Educational institutions are dealing with the exponential growth of the amount of data they handle, as students and teachers increasingly embrace digital content, cloud services, and online apps. To 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.

The education sector, in general, is always trying to find new ways to do business more efficiently and at a lower cost in the face of extreme budget pressures. And these days the sector is looking to the cloud more and more to reduce expenses while gaining access to added robust features and functionality. Relying on the cloud means you don’t have to maintain a large IT staff or operate an in-house data centre. If you’re an educational organisation, you want the cloud to be safer and you want your cloud provider to be responsible for protecting your data.

A recent independent study by Dimension Research, commissioned by StorageCraft, found that 60% of educational institutions believe that data backed up to the public cloud is safer than data backed up on-premises. Further, the study revealed that another 60% of educational organizations 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 answers correct? Can and should educational institutions rely solely on their cloud service provider, such as Google and AWS for data protection?

Top cloud providers like Google Cloud Platform, Microsoft Azure, and Amazon Web Services (AWS) do protect core infrastructure and services. That’s their responsibility. But it is the customer’s responsibility to secure that data. Overlook this fact and the risk increases of experiencing a crippling and permanent loss of your data, should anything ever happen to it.

For companies like Microsoft and Google, the education sector is a vital market, so they often provide their cloud apps, such as Office 356 and G Suite, to educational institutions for free, along with free accounts for all their students. As a result, it’s understandable that educational institutions might rely purely on Google/AWS for data protection and security. But that’s not entirely true. Take, for example, data generated by the cloud app Microsoft Office 365. It’s true that Microsoft guarantees the service. But Microsoft does not guarantee the protection of the data you generate when you use Office 365.

Office 365 does have some baseline data protection measures in place. There is a 30-day recycle bin that lets you recover and restore deleted data inside a 30-day period. This is helpful because users often delete or purge data and later discover they need it. But after that 30-day period, that data is gone forever. Microsoft spells this out in the fine print of its terms of service.

A lot of schools are not fully aware that they need extra protection to secure their data and recover it if it’s lost or compromised. That can turn out to be a very painful experience, should data loss occur. Because educational institutions do have very valuable data in the cloud, from student test records to birthdates, student banking information, and very likely also research data. All of this needs an extra level of protection and recovery capability.

The education sector has another urgent reason to take data security and backup extra seriously: the rising threat of ransomware. More than a thousand schools in the U.S. fell prey to ransomware attacks in 2019, according to security firm Armor. In June 2019, Nagle Catholic College in Western Australia came under a cybersecurity attack, with bank account and credit card information stolen, including signatures scanned when parents paid school fees. According to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, the private education sector was the fourth-biggest victim of data breaches from April to June 2019.

For educational institutions – just like for any other business today – the reality is that it’s not a matter of if a data-loss incident will occur, but when. That’s why it’s essential for them to implement new strategies around data backup and recovery. Schools that act will be in a far better position to quickly react to ransomware attacks and undo any damage.

What kind of action should schools take? 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 data corruption, a security breach or even accidental data deletion—the burden is on you, not your cloud provider.

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

Adding this additional, yet highly necessary layer of protection to your cloud data could be the difference between making the grade or flunking the digital test.