Education, privacy and the cloud

A challenge faced by many organisations when moving to the cloud is around “privacy” and what it means.
This is more prevalent when the data stored by an organisation contains information about real humans – not just products or systems. This is often seen in industries such as health care, government, and education as these all work with people.
Let’s talk about education specifically…
The main primary product of a school is the education of a child. Because of the vulnerability of children, the security of their data and privacy of their information is of utmost importance (even if it isn’t to them with their high usage of multiple social networks).
How is information about students stored in a school? It can exist in emails, network files, documents on an intranet, and records in a database among others.
When looking at Office 365 what does this mean for your school? At the end of the day each school will have its own view on what information is private, and what audience is private.
For example: the contents of a student’s mailbox – is the information in here important enough that it can’t go into the cloud? What kind of information would be stored in there? Most commonly correspondence between other students, their teachers, and possibly other people. It’s not likely that the information contained in a student mailbox would threaten their privacy or security. The same could potentially be applied to their “home drive”.
Faculty however are a different story. They may have information about students, and as such is treated carefully as that information in the wrong hands could be very dangerous.
Then again it comes down to how staff use the systems. If they send attachments around such as spreadsheets with students’ personal information – that’s an issue. However, if they send a link to a file sitting on a SharePoint Server then no sensitive information has been transmitted.
At the end of the day schools need to look at several factors when choosing what and who gets moved to Office 365:

• What information cannot leave school grounds
• Who is working with sensitive information about students
• How are they sharing information? Does the information live in their mailbox, an intranet site, or somewhere else?
• Is the school information system more secure than what Microsoft offers?

At Paradyne we’ve implemented Office 365 for many schools and universities. Interestingly we’ve seen various approaches to moving data to the cloud. Some schools we’ve spoken to don’t want to move at all for fear of the unknown. Others have moved only student mailboxes while many have moved staff & student mail, personal “home drives”, and even intranet content.
Ultimately schools need to be realistic about what data is stored and potentially moved to the cloud, how private it actually is, and whether there is a way they can be doing it better in the first place.
Office 365 provides many commercial organisations with peace of mind that their information is secure, the same offer is on the table for education institutions.