5 Tips For Data Privacy Compliance In Higher Education

Cyber attacks have become more prevalent with technology’s evolution, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. In a survey, 64% of educational institutions said they suffered a ransomware attack in 2021.

Securing data and protecting students is crucial for complying with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974.

Data Privacy Compliance In Higher Education

Here are five tips for complying with data privacy laws in higher education.

Teaching Early and Often 

Leadership starts at the top in higher education — this notion especially applies to data privacy compliance.

Colleges and universities should implement strong data privacy policies to follow federal guidelines from the Department of Education as closely as possible.

School administrators should teach these policies in training and hold frequent seminars to ensure all professors and faculty members are up to date on best practices.

Teaching an old dog new tricks can save the university millions of dollars from hacks and lawsuits.

Being Vigilant of Insider Threats

Colleges grant access to many resources for their professors and faculty, but doing so may unknowingly leave a university susceptible to insider threats.

These dangers can cause a significant amount of damage to a college’s technological infrastructure. However, they may differ in intent.

Some internal threats may be intentional. They could derive from a disgruntled staff member who wants to exact revenge. These employees know the inner workings of a university’s security system and can become the culprits of a breach.

Professors must be vigilant if they see coworkers doing suspicious things on the job or discussing hypothetical hacks with others.

Other threats may be unintentional, coming from employees unaware of their actions contributing to a data privacy breach. For example, an employee could fall for a phishing email or use the same password for personal and work accounts.

To prevent this, administrators should consistently remind staff of the best security practices.

Spreading Out Security

Colleges have become much larger in the past 150 years. In 1865, the average university in the United States had four administrators working for all students. The number rose to about 225 employees by 1965 and is now closer to 500.

With such large campuses, there are many buildings and departments, so keeping track of security can be hectic. Giving each department its own information technology (IT) team may be wise to avoid burdening a single IT force at the school.

Small campuses may handle having one IT department, but a large college could need multiple teams spread across campus.

Building Trust With Students

Administrators need to build trust with students regarding data privacy compliance. Schools must teach students about data security because technology has made remote learning easier.

Some students may do their schooling exclusively online on university technology or their devices. They should know to use different passwords than the ones they use for personal accounts to avoid theft and security breaches.

The student could leave the university vulnerable if they don’t implement best practices for security while using on-campus computers. Remind them to ensure they log out of their accounts when done.

Additionally, teaching them what an unsafe website or phishing email looks like can help prevent hackers from stealing their accounts.

Staying Updated

For administrators, simply keeping up with legislation on data compliance and keeping computer systems updated can go a long way in protecting students and the rest of the faculty.

One of the worst cyber attacks in the internet’s history took place in 2017. Hackers used WannaCry ransomware to infiltrate thousands of computers worldwide. Many of these computers didn’t download Microsoft’s security patch it had released a few months earlier.

The WannaCry attacks affected some colleges in the United States, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, North Dakota State, and more.

Many companies, governments, and schools would’ve avoided the ransomware attack if these computer systems had updated security.

Securing Data and Privacy at School

Schools, government websites, and healthcare companies are among the most vulnerable to cyber-attacks.

A ransomware attack on a college can compromise the identity of thousands of students and faculty. It can also cost a school millions of dollars in damage and lawsuits from violated privacy laws.

Being proactive and educating faculty and students on data security can be beneficial in preventing these attacks.

Aiding the IT department in keeping systems updated will help keep a university in compliance with federal and state privacy laws and protect it from malware and lawsuits.

Lavanya Rathnam

Lavanya Rathnam is an experienced technology, finance, and compliance writer. She combines her keen understanding of regulatory frameworks and industry best practices with exemplary writing skills to communicate complex concepts of Governance, Risk, and Compliance (GRC) in clear and accessible language. Lavanya specializes in creating informative and engaging content that educates and empowers readers to make informed decisions. She also works with different companies in the Web 3.0, blockchain, fintech, and EV industries to assess their products’ compliance with evolving regulations and standards.

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