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By Mike Arrowsmith, Chief Trust Officer, NinjaOne

The past two years have presented endless challenges to the education sector with IT infrastructure being crucial for the continuation of learning programmes for all. Today, many IT leaders in education are still facing challenges presented by remote and hybrid working environments. Everything from multiple device use, to ransomware threats to cloud management – all on a tight budget has meant IT personnel are under increasing pressure.

So what are the challenges facing educators at present and how can IT departments overcome these?

Cybersecurity Threats for Institutions

Cyber attacks continue to plague all sectors and education providers aren’t immune. Ransomware, phishing, denial of service, and data breaches are becoming more commonplace as hackers realise the opportunities that remote learning and multiple device use brings.

One of the most devastating cyber attacks organisations face is ransomware, as two schools in Kent found out last year. Many institutions think they’re adequately protected from cyber attacks but the reality is that a decentralised approach to IT as well as multiple software, systems, hardware and devices makes management and security harder.

Ensuring that all IT infrastructure is safe can be complex. Many institutions have a myriad of systems they use including learning management software, video surveillance, intercoms and wireless connectivity systems. The growing technological footprint that most settings have mean an increase in attack surface to exploit and therefore demands a unified and comprehensive platform to protect IT operations.

Disparate Devices and Cybersecurity

One main driver of security risks that schools, universities, and educational institutions face is the sheer number of devices now in use. NinjaOne’s Back to School Security report recognised that the number of devices now being used in education settings is increasing. Nearly half of educators we spoke to use up to five devices as part of their daily roles. Across the entire teaching staff and students this can mean that devices being used can be in the thousands.

Yet, at the same time an unclear approach to device security still remained for many institutions creating challenges and issues. This includes encouraging a bring-your-own device (BYOD) policy for students but without any framework in place to provide security measures such as providing anti-virus or authentication software for devices. This lack of regulation creates unnecessary confusion for organisations, staff and students, ultimately putting them at risk.

In an ideal world staff and students would be provided with school issued devices that are fully managed, monitored, and secured. In the event of an issue then IT teams can quickly diagnose and remediate an issue all while being remote

However, it’s not realistic for most education providers to have the budget for this. Which is why it’s important that they invest in a cloud-based unified platform for IT operations which all students and staff can download and install on their devices – enabling both protection and support.

Education Moves To Hybrid- And Multi-Cloud Future

The increasing cybersecurity demands of modern learning requires multiple software programmes,  some of which contain personal identifiable information. For most education institutions student data remains cloud resistant with many education settings electing to have a unique or privately managed cloud to host their data. However, we are seeing major players catch on to this huge demand including Google’s Workspace for Education.

Organisations will be holding a host of data including grades, accommodation details and demographics. Additionally there’s a need for cloud storage for lecture presentations, finance documents and so on.

Therefore the multi-cloud approach is something to consider. It’s cost-effective because it can be scaled up and down depending on the current requirements. It also facilitates student access to information in a high-quality end user experience regardless of where they are, and what device they’re using. It also minimises the disruption caused in the event of a crisis.

However, hybrid cloud environments are complex and specialised tools are needed for them to operate effectively. It can be overwhelming and confusing knowing where to start when selecting these services which is why most organisations, including those in education, turn to trusted MSPs to do the heavy lifting and provide the services needed specific to each client’s needs.

How can education providers improve cybersecurity and IT operations

Everyone is trying to adapt to the every changing world and the likes of universities, colleges, apprenticeship providers and schools are no different. The past two years have seen a huge shift in how the learning process is facilitated and also seen an accelerated digital transformation for many. Whilst most are probably starting to catch their breath as life begins to return to pre pandemic practises, the legacy that the restrictions have left will be permanent in many aspects.

The current challenge is navigating this new world where multiple devices,and cloud environments power learning. Teamed with budgets facing increased pressure, security challenges, demand for the latest software and cloud management it’s crucial that IT leaders invest time and resources to address this.

IT teams need to devise a plan to ensure that the modern learning process isn’t creating any security threats or exposing any weaknesses. At the heart of the IT strategy there needs to be a unified platform for IT operations. Using a MSP allows education institutions to supplement their existing framework and use the provider to fill in the gaps. They can have confidence that all measures and processes are up to date and use experts to identify any issues before they arise.

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