Gone Data Gone

Three ways higher ed can protect students, faculty, and staff data.

GUEST COLUMN | by Vijay Ramanathan

CREDIT Code42The computer’s data is gone. Just thinking about such a data disaster can cause hearts to race in higher education students, faculty and staff—and create a sinking feeling in the stomachs of the IT professionals responsible for helping them deal with such disasters. The causes for data disasters vary: a hard drive crash, a laptop left on a bus or stolen from a dining hall, ransomware that locks a student out of his or her computer. But the result is the same—hours or even days spent trying to recover or recreate lost files, up to and including valuable or even irreplaceable laboratory research, papers, student records, and other data.

Now it’s time to turn awareness into action by empowering university users to protect their data.

The increased media attention around data breaches has created a general awareness of cybersecurity within the higher ed community. Now it’s time to turn awareness into action by empowering university users to protect their data. Here are three ways higher ed IT professionals can help students, faculty and staff avoid data loss disasters and, when disasters do occur, make data recovery quick, painless, and do-it-yourself.

Make Backup Easy: Perhaps the most important way higher ed IT professionals can help protect end users from data loss is to implement policies supported by smart tech in which end user data is automatically and continuously backed up to the cloud. Many IT professionals still expect users to manually back-up their data—to external hard-drives, or encrypted local datacenters or cloud services. Manual backup policies repeatedly fail because it is too easy for users to postpone backup. Instead, IT professionals need to implement policies that require, or at least strongly encourage, users to install software that continuously and unobtrusively backs up data, making backup a set-it-and-forget-it affair with perpetual benefits.

Educate Users: Higher ed institutions have programs in place to educate students, faculty and staff on sexual harassment, substance abuse, and crime prevention. Why not educate them on data protection and security, as well? Data protection and security best practices might seem obvious to IT professionals, but not everyone on a college campus understands the risk of opening an attachment from an unknown source, or what to do when a ransomware attack strikes. Moreover, even when end users are aware of best practices, reminders at regular intervals increase adherence. A little education on backup best practices, laptop theft avoidance, who to contact in the event a laptop is stolen or lost, and how to recognize social engineering will go a long way in promoting data protection and security, with the potential to stop data disasters before they happen.

Monitor and Measure: Implementing policies to move students, faculty and staff to adopt automatic backup software on their computers, and educating them on data protection and security best practices are the first steps. Knowing whether or not policies are working and adoption is widespread is another. It might be cliché, but it’s still true—you can’t manage what you don’t measure. IT teams can measure the success of these programs if they institute processes and use software that enables campus-wide visibility of software installation and backup health on each device. With visibility of data backup initiatives, IT professionals know if policies and practices are actually working, or if more end-user training is required.

Smart software, end-user education, and the ability to monitor and measure adoption and utilization require time and effort. Yet, by reducing data disasters and making recovery from such disasters faster and easier, IT professionals will save time and effort overall by avoiding the time-consuming chore of data disaster recovery. In addition, IT pros will protect their institution’s students and faculty, its research and records, and the knowledge and reputation built within the university—by ensuring its most valuable assets are securely preserved.

Vijay Ramanathan is Vice President of Product Management at Code42, a global enterprise SaaS provider of endpoint data protection and security to more than 39,000 organizations, including the most recognized brands in business and education. 

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