Information Security

The Four Steps to Better User Authentication for Educational Institutions

Increasing demand for access to education data calls for more secure user authentication, as state and local educational agencies build robust education data systems to facilitate the management and sharing of student records. The article deals with the necessary steps to better user authentication in the educational sphere.

School systems used to be of closed types, which simplified maintaining security a lot. However, the interconnectedness required by the Internet age made these systems open for interoperability. Unfortunately, it has exposed institutions to significant risks. Personal data can be compromised or shared and monetized by unscrupulous service providers.

To mitigate these risks, schools need an effective authentication system for students, staff, and teachers. It has to restrict access to institutional resources without compromising user data. There are many user authentication methods applied in education.  Although, not all approaches are the same in terms of security and privacy.

Here are some steps that schools can take to authenticate their students, staff, and teachers securely.

Use Single Sign-On
First of all, institutions should use Single sign-on Authentication (SSO) to verify users’ eligibility to access resources.

People often use the same passwords, even though they are advised not to do so. When they have many accounts and are used to entering the same credentials on multiple systems, they entrust the data to numerous parties. Single sign-on provides access to many systems through one account and sign-in process. It reduces the number of parties to which credentials are passed.

Single sign-on is an excellent authentication method for several reasons.
It lessens administrative burden in comparison with creating user accounts manually or through import.

It is less vulnerable to fraud than email authentication. It reduces password fatigue and provides a smoother user experience. Most importantly, with SSO, personal data is protected more than through any other authentication method. 

Anonymise User Data
In addition to limiting the number of parties to whom data is transmitted, it is essential to ensure the anonymity of the transmitted data.

Institutions should use an opaque, immutable, unique identifier for each student, teacher, and employee who access resources. These identifiers must be different from any credentials known and used by the users themselves. Also, they should not contain any personal information such as names or email addresses.

Institutions should set default single sign-on policies to provide only the minimum set of anonymized data required. Many applications and services are designed with a default disclosure policy and will release this data to advertisers. Ensuring your institution’s default implementation is anonymized will prevent data leakage to external parties.

Implement Multi-Factor Authentication
Single sign-on verification can be even more secure when combined with multi-factor authentication (MFA).
Users have to take additional actions to access the site, system, or platform when using MFA.
It usually involves entering a code sent to the phone number or email address associated with the account being accessed. Requiring students, staff, and faculty to verify their identity when logging in this way can significantly increase data security.

Even accounts with strong passwords can be compromised. Implementing an MFA with your institution's identity provider can prevent unauthorized persons from hacking and using these accounts.

Choose trusted partners
The methods described so far are all measures that schools can take on their own to improve data security. But institutions need to consider more than just their systems and policies when it comes to protecting privacy. They should also take into account those of any external parties with which data is exchanged.

As you know, some service providers exchange user data and monetize it. Others may lack an adequate policy and guarantees for the protection of the data entrusted to them. With the growing number of cyber-attacks and strict privacy laws worldwide, colleges and universities need to check potential suppliers and partners for their ability to protect personal data.

When evaluating the capabilities of a data security service provider, many factors must be taken into account. In particular, do they comply with data protection laws? Do they embed reliable security algorithms into their software products? Do they provide technical support? These factors should be evaluated before entrusting the implementation of authentication to third-party companies.

The original blog post can be found here
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