The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has become a big challenge for K-12 schools as they scramble to find ways to move their classroom-based training infrastructure to deliver distant learning and minimize disruptions. With entire communities in lockdown, the shift to delivering online learning has become a herculean task for IT administrators.

SysCloud created this page to help IT administrators in K-12 schools get the resources they need to navigate these challenges.

Table of Contents

Free online tools for K-12 IT administrators

Both G Suite and Office 365 have made available all the apps K-12 schools will need to start delivering online learning. They are offering free access to key apps in addition to publishing online resources and guides to help schools make the shift to online learning. Please note that some of the apps don’t have a 'forever free plan' for schools and will require an upgrade to paid plans in the future.

Cloud productivity and collaboration tools for distance learning

Google Teach From Home Resource Center for G Suite - A hub of information and tools to help schools migrate to distance learning.

Google Meet Guide for K-12 IT Administrators - Google help center page to help setup Google Meet for distance learning.

Google Voice for Schools - A guide to using Google Voice by TCEA.

Microsoft Remote Learning Page for Office 365 - Official Microsoft page to help schools make the shift to remote learning.

Skype Meetings - Microsoft page to help users set up Skype meeting with no sign ups or downloads.

WebEx - Cisco WebEx page for teachers, parents, and IT admins to deliver teaching online.

Adobe Creative Cloud - Temporary at-home access to Creative Cloud available until May 31 for schools and colleges.

Apps and tools designed for K-12

Bloomz - Parent communication app that helps teachers and school administrations engage with parents on student's growth and development. 

Boclips - Online video platform that enables educational publishers and service providers to find, license, and use video from content producers. 

Edmodo - An educational technology company offering a communication, collaboration, and coaching platform to K-12 schools. 

Flipgrid -  An education-focused platform by Microsoft to create and share short videos. 

Training and technical resources for IT administrators

IT Operations Planning for a Pandemic - Click here  

Azure for Education - Click here 

AWS for Education - Click here 

Online Training for Educators from Cisco - Click here 

Mobile Device Management for G Suite - Click here 

Preparing Chromebooks for at Home E-Learning - Click here 

Mobile Device Management for Office 365 - Click here 

6 Security and safety tripwires to watch for in distance learning

As schools are rapidly moving to learn from home and work from home models, the biggest threat to the ongoing functioning of schools is keeping cloud data safe and making data available on-demand no matter where staff or students are located.

According to EducationWeek, fewer than 10% districts report that every student has access to non-shared devices at home while 54% of districts report that more than three-quarters of their students have access to shared devices at home.

The same publication reported that 47% of school districts rate phishing as a high risk threat for schools and 23% are bracing themselves for ransomware attacks. 

Threats to cloud data security, student data privacy and safety are amplified by the fact that IT administrators have to now deal with provisioning devices and IT infrastructure for teachers, staff, and students and making sure shared devices don’t act as a gateway for data security threats.

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"I would easily say that less than 50% of our students and families have access to either a consistent learning device and/or Internet access, I think that's our greatest challenge right now."

- Superintendent, Detroit Public Schools Community District. (source : NPR)

1. Phishing and ransomware attacks

The last few years has seen a steady spike in the number of phishing sites detected by Google and this trend is picking up steam as scammers have started launching phishing scams to target people interested in learning about COVID-19. 

 

Graph - number of dangerous sites

Image source: Google Transparency Report

 

Teachers, non-teaching staff and students are now spending more time online as schools are supporting distance learning amid the lockdown and this could potentially open the floodgates for phishing scams and ransomware attacks.

 

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An example of a phishing email. Image Source: Norton - Online Scams

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 Tip! In addition to implementing G Suite and Office 365 email security best practices, backing up G Suite and Office 365 data will allow IT administrators the ability to restore accounts rapidly in the event of a successful phishing scam or ransomware attack.

2. Data loss events

Distance learning exposes most schools to sophisticated attacks that can overwrite Drive files or delete them. For example, malicious software can be uploaded to Google Drive and the link to the software can be embedded in Google Docs or chat messages to infect a domain.

According to Google, the risk of account takeover (for possible malicious data deletion or exfiltration) even with two-factor authentication and basic security features enabled in G Suite is about 33%.

The number of malicious sites using the 'Covid 19' and 'gov' in their URL, and adding links to authentic sites like WHO to make it look genuine, have been on the rise for the past few weeks. 

Accidental deletions are just waiting to happen. With emails, chats, files becoming the primary means of communication among teachers, non-teaching staff and students, incidents of accidentally deleting or overwriting class assignments, scoring sheets, assessment blueprints and other critical data needed for day-to-day functioning of schools are bound to increase.

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Tip! Having a data backup, implementing DLP policies, and all turning on the recommended G Suite and Office 365 security settings is a must for K-12 It administrators.

3. Controlling unfettered shadow IT

IT administrators are worried about the sudden spurt in shadow IT as teachers and school management shift to a distance learning program.

Videoconferencing and collaboration apps are making an aggressive bid to gain a toehold in the K-12 market by offering free or deeply discounted products. But schools are already paying a price as they are opening themselves to serious risks.

Some of these 3rd-party apps have questionable features that can compromise student/staff privacy or violate compliance requirements with respect to personally identifiable information (PII).

In addition to collaboration apps, malicious 3rd-party mobile apps that claim to track Coronavirus can lock down mobile devices provided to teachers and students.

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Tip! IT administrators should consider using security apps like SysCloud to disable potentially dangerous 3rd-party apps and create whitelisting policies for 3rd-party app installation.

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"As a result of the recent COVID19 outbreak, we have seen an increase in third party application installations to G Suite. Recently, we have run into problems with online meeting apps like Zoom and needed to get visibility into users who are installing this app to G Suite"
- Chief Technology Officer, Canyon Independent School District

4. Compliance and privacy issues

One of the trends IT administrators should watch for is the growing use of Drive and emails as a means for teachers to share Individualized Education Program (IEP) information with parents of students who are now taking the classes online.

As schools rely on online collaboration and sharing of information via email, Drive, and chat becomes the norm, compliance issues can creep up as the teacher or staff may accidentally disclose private information.

While FERPA  allows disclosure of student PII to tackle health issues pertaining to COVID-19, this is not a blanket approval to disclose PII or stop monitoring who gets access to PII.

That’s not all. Third-party collaboration products may share data about teachers and students who sign up using social media credentials (Example: Facebook) with advertisers or marketers.

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Tip! IT administrators should implement G Suite and Office 365 policies for FERPA, CIPA, COPPA, HIPAA and PII.

5. Student safety issues

As schools move to online learning, cyberbullying is expected to become a significant threat to student safety. A crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic could make bullies “act out” and teachers/students with an Asian background  are particularly vulnerable.

Students who are already undergoing treatment for mental health issues  will find it extremely difficult to cope with the COVID-19 lockdown.  

For a lot of students, school may be the only safe haven they know- especially if they come from homes of domestic violence or abuse.The lockdown due to COVID-19 could mean that some of them are trapped in their homes with their abusers or in a toxic environment.

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Tip! IT administrators should consider using online student safety monitoring solutions that go beyond keyword monitoring. Relying on out-of-the-box G Suite and Office 365 policies either result in a deluge of false positives and most importantly, serious student safety issues slip through the cracks.

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"Safety was always our number one priority. However, while G Suite gives our students, teachers, and staff an amazing way to collaborate, it was actually turning into a big challenge to monitor what was happening in every student's Drive documents, chat messages, or emails"

- Director of IT, Town of Webb Union Free School District

Canyon ISD-1

How Canyon Independent School District Battled Covid-19 Lockdown & Guaranteed Student Safety

Read Case Study

How SysCloud secures G Suite for schools

Having a robust backup and security solution for G Suite is one of the best ways for K-12 IT administrators to safeguard their schools from data loss and security threats that’s beginning to spike due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The following tables show how SysCloud can help schools secure G Suite.

Data Loss and Ransomware Recovery

  Backup Features G Suite with Vault SysCloud
Gmail

Emails backup

check check

Trash backup/Junk backup

check check
Drive

Shared Folder backup / Shared with me backup

check (Only for 55 days) check (Unlimited)
Shared Drive backup/Teams backup check (Only for 55 days) check (Unlimited)
My Drive backup check check (Unlimited)
Contacts Groups Backup check (Only for 55 days) check (Unlimited)
Calendar Backup of Shared Calendar events check (Only for 55 days) check (Unlimited)
Sites Backup Sites check(Only for 55 days) check (Unlimited)

 



Restore Features G Suite with Vault SysCloud
Gmail Point in time restore wrong check
Granular search for restore wrong check
Restore with attachments check (Only for 55 days) check (Unlimited)
Restore to source folder check (Only for 55 days) check (Unlimited)
Cross user restore wrong check (Unlimited)
Drive (Includes My Drive, Shared Drive and Shared Folder) Point in time restore wrong check (Unlimited)
Restore with folder structure check(Only for 55 days) check (Unlimited)
Restore with sharing permissions check (Only for 55 days) check (Unlimited)
Granular search for restore wrong check (Unlimited)
Custom folder restore wrong check (Unlimited)
Revision history with option to restore a past version wrong check (Unlimited)
Calendar Restore to user accounts wrong check (Unlimited)
Restore events with the shared invitee check (Only for 30 days) check (Unlimited)
Sites Multiple sites restore wrong check (Unlimited)
Contacts Restore to user accounts check (Only for 30 days) check (Unlimited)

 

  Backup Admin Features G Suite with Vault SysCloud
Backup Automatic incremental backup wrong check
Backup retention post account deletion wrong check
Real-time backup dashboards wrong check
Selective users/apps backup check check
Granular retention settings check check
Drill-down view of backup data wrong check
User activities Audit logs check check
Restore & Export End-user self-service restore check (Only for 30 days) check
Cross-user restore wrong check
Restore data with exact time stamp check check
Advanced search option for restore wrong check
Export email in .pst or .xml format wrong check
Preview of backed up data wrong check

 

Safety, Compliance, and Security Enforcement

Features G Suite with Vault SyCloud
Prebuilt Policies
Sharing controls and permissions check check
Flags sensitive content check (Only SSN and Credit card data) check
Block malicious third-party apps
Blocks unauthorized app installation wrong check
Blacklist unauthorized apps check (Only from chrome webstore) check (all apps)
Block malicious sites
Blocks harmful content online check check
Blocks access to unauthorized/unmonitored websites wrong check
Student safety policies
Cyberbullying check(Setup required) check(Prebuilt)
Objectionable content check (Setup required) check (Prebuilt)
Life threats check (Setup required) check (Prebuilt)
Hate speech check (Setup required) check (Prebuilt)
Child abuse check (Setup required) check (Prebuilt)
Movies and Audio Filter check (Setup required) check (Prebuilt)
Compliance policies
FERPA check (Setup required) check (Prebuilt)
HIPAA check check
IEP check (Setup required) check (Prebuilt)
PII check check
PCI check check
CIPA check (Setup required) check (Prebuilt)
Policy features
Creating & editing pre-existing or new policies check (Create new) check
Granular control on defining policy applicability check(Only domains, Sub-domains, and Groups level) check (Include org units and users)
Custom triggers for policy violations check check
Policy exception request and overrule workflow wrong check
Violation remediation rules definition check check
Mechanism of threat detection
Checks words or phrases match check check
Identify the context of the word wrong check
Filter references and quotes from the text wrong check
Keyword search in the subject and body check check
Check for frequency of the word check check
Use Machine learning algorithm wrong check
Flag the incident with risk threshold wrong check
Actions taken when identified a threat
Revert sharing permission wrong check
Transfer file ownership wrong check
Remove access to the file and quarantine it check check
Auto-encrypt Drive files wrong check
Request exceptions wrong check

 

SysCloud is offering an extended free 90-day subscription offer to schools moving to distance learning

Learn More