5 minute read

8 Best Practices in Privacy, Security, and Compliance for Higher Education

4/23/2024 7:00 PM

Higher education relies on technology in many aspects of campus life, from academics to business and operations. It makes processes more efficient, productive, and convenient, and in doing so collects and generates a lot of data.

Data is crucial to the administration of higher education. Colleges and universities rely on data analysis to understand student behaviors, improve services, better allocate resources, and more.

Data’s immense value creates immediate problems

While technology and data provide benefits, they also attract security threats, raise privacy concerns, and involve compliance obligations. Data is the world’s most valuable resource, more than oil and precious metals, and thus needs security from bad actors. Data also contains numerous pieces of information about individuals’ lives that require privacy, as required by various laws and regulations.

Higher education is rich with data and a growing target for cybercriminals. These bad actors not only want financial information but the personally identifiable information (PII) connected to it, and they will use fraud methods to take, use, and ransom data from students, instructors, researchers, staff, alumni and donors, students’ families, and campus visitors.

The cost of a data breach can be significant and is increasing every year. Costs include forensic reviews of security incidents, data breach remediation, regulatory fines or other requirements, loss of enrollment, and lost business opportunities.

Best practices for privacy and security

Properly managing data to make it private and keep it secure, while achieving regulatory compliance, is imperative to the daily operations and long-term health of an institution. Here are eight best practices to help your institution create and maintain privacy, security, and compliance:

1. The human element is the most important element
The human element is the number one root cause of breaches, not technology. Ploys include email phishing, fake invoices, account takeover, and human errors such as weak or shared passwords, not updating software and hardware to new versions, and more.

Technology is designed to be private, secure, and compliant, but humans still need to monitor and maintain technology to ensure it performs correctly. When changes happen, technology usually does not change itself, humans must intervene to adjust it.

2. Identify gaps between technology, regulations, and policies
The newest technologies often present challenges and opportunities that current regulations, standards, policies, and procedures do not address. In the absence of guidelines, selecting, implementing, using, and protecting new hardware and software may require extra effort.

3. Communicate clearly and execute dutifully
It is important that policies are clearly accessible, procedures are clearly outlined, and consent is clearly requested, with confirmations directly communicated and users’ requests duly fulfilled. Many privacy laws require an organization’s privacy policy to be clear and conspicuous to users and for users’ requests regarding their data responded to in a reasonable timeframe.

Policy changes must also be communicated clearly and directly. It is best practice to remind users of policy changes multiple times and in various formats, including emails, flyers, website banners and notifications within software solutions. Internally, frequent training ensures your team is aligned and knows how to comply with security and privacy measures.

4. Gain visibility to get control
Whether it is a single door in a building or 100 terabytes of data, you can only manage what you know about and can control. Dig into every corner of the institution where there may be physical and digital items in need of privacy, security, and compliance measures. Having both a solid data asset map and a physical security map is critical to maintaining control across your entire institution. After identifying its location, gain visibility into the data’s life cycle: what data you have on hand, how it’s generated or collected, where it’s stored, who can access it, what are your data retention policies, and more.

5. Different types of data deserves different management
Not all data is the same and should not be treated the same. Certain types of data require more extensive protections or particular management to satisfy both business needs and compliance requirements. Make sure your organization conducts due diligence to identify different types of data and the best ways to manage them.

6. Manage vendors’ access to data and commitment to security
Identify and actively manage the access third-party companies and organizations have to institutional data, including how they use that data. Ensure industry-standard security practices are followed by third parties and review and update contracts with them. Request independent third-party security audits of any vendors that process student data. Make sure you understand what types of restrictions vendors implement when processing student data. These and other management steps will likely require coordination between IT, legal, procurement, and other stakeholders at your institution.

7. Surround yourself with experts and resources
Stay up to date on developments in technology, regulations, and changing human habits (legal and illegal) by joining higher education and technology industry organizations. Consult with experts in those organizations and use the information and resources they provide. Communicate and coordinate with your institution’s legal counsel, information technology, privacy, and campus security teams as well as other key stakeholders.

8. A platform approach to solutions improves privacy and security
A platform approach to solutions provides a comprehensive strategy to integrate software and hardware, standardize processes, and deliver consistent privacy and security measures across an entire system. A single platform is easier to learn, control, configure, and monitor, and covers more ground than multiple disconnected solutions with disparate approaches to privacy and security.

Get your guide to navigating the evolution of privacy, security, and compliance

TouchNet is a longstanding leader in developing campuswide payment and ID management solutions and services that are private, secure, and compliant by design. Download our ebook to learn more best practices in privacy, security, and compliance and how they can help your institution prevent and mitigate fraud.