The Electric Educator: Data Security for Teachers - The Basics

Monday, September 29, 2014

Data Security for Teachers - The Basics

As we put more and more data into "the cloud," keeping your data safe, secure, and away from prying eyes is more important than ever! For teachers, this is especially true. Classroom teachers are using tools like Google Apps for Education, iCloud, Moodle, Office365, Chromebooks, iPads at an ever increasing rate. All of the data created and stored in these services and devices should be protected and safeguarded.

There are [at least] three "bad things" that can happen to your personal data stored "in the cloud:"

1. You get "hacked"
The term hacking is a very broad term that basically means someone without permission has accessed your account or information without your consent. Once someone gains access to your account they can:
  • Send email through your email account (most likely scenario)
  • Delete/copy/move data
  • Search for personal information (bank accounts, passwords for other services, credit card information, etc)
  • Lock you out of your own account by changing your password. 
2. You get "locked"
If your accounts get "locked", you lose access to the data and services you rely on; bad news. An account will get locked for several reasons: 
  • Suspicious activity like sending LOTS of email or performing repetitive actions much quicker than a normal human. This typically happens if you get hacked, but sometimes accounts can be locked if you deviate from your normal activity (like when your bank cancels your CC when you travel out of state/country without notifying them). 
  • Too many failed password attempts
3. Accidental Destruction
It sounds funny, but there are ways that you can delete, corrupt, deactivate, cancel or otherwise mess up important data and information. Always good to have a backup!

Common Sense Tips to Keep your Data Safe: 

1. Choose a secure password. 

You know this, but do you actually know what "secure" means?
  • Your password should be at least 8 letters. (lots of debate on this, but I wouldn't go less than 8)
  • Your password should contain uppercase letters, lowercase letters, a number, and a symbol.
  • Avoid dictionary words
  • Avoid using personal information as your password such as your birthday, address, or phone number. 
Teacher Tip: Use the "license plate rule" to create your password. Create a password that would fit on a license plate (8 characters). Shorten words and add special characters to make your "license plate" password more secure.
Secure Password Examples (please don't use these!!)
  • English Teacher → Eng-tcHr
  • I Love Chemistry → i<3chemm li="">
  • Math Teachers → Y=mx+bee

2. Backup Your Data Regularly

Again, common sense here, but backing up important data is a good idea. As we have moved away from data stored on our computers, we've also become less concerned with backing up our information. Many people believe that if their data is "in the cloud" they don't have to back it up.

While cloud-based products have improved the redundancy of our data, if your account is hacked, locked, or you experience accidental destruction, you will be very glad that you kept a backup of your data.

There are two ways you can "backup" your information:

"Share" your information with a secondary account. 
If you are using Google products, many of them allow you to share your documents, calendars, sites, etc with other people. A great way to safeguard your data is by sharing important information with a second email account that you own. For example, if your schools uses Google Apps for Education, share all of your Google Drive files with your personal  Gmail account. This doesn't "mix" or combine the data, it simply provides access to a second account which can be removed at any time.

Download a Copy of your Data Periodically
It's never a bad idea to download a backup copy of important information, even if it is "in the cloud." Keep in mind that in a cloud based environment, you are worried about hard-drive failure. you are worried about losing access to your account.

Saving a backup file will vary depending on the service you are using. Dropbox, Google Drive and iCloud allow you to download copies of your information.

You can also consider third party solutions such as Backupify, Spanning, or Mover to help you backup, migrate, and copy your cloud data.

Google Takeout - a FREE services
for Gmail/Google Apps users
Teacher Tip: If you are a Google Apps/Gmail user, take advantage of Google Takeout to generate a backup of your data across [most] of Google's services. With a single click you can backup your email, contacts, calendars, documents, and more!

If you've made it to this point in this post, hopefully you are thinking "wow, I knew all of that; can't believe I just read that entire article." If so, GREAT! The tips listed here are basic, common sense things that most of us don't do. 

1 comment:

  1. Hi again Mr. Sowash,

    It's Emily Rodrick from the University of South Alabama in Mobile, AL. I don't think I mentioned this in my last comment but you can check out our class blog at EDM 310 Class Blog. I always enjoy reading your post because I learn something new every time. I know of the importance of backing up your files but I've never really considered backing up my emails or my calendars. My passwords are lacking creativity as well. Your license plate rule is a great rule of thumb. Thanks for sharing this information with us!


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