The education sector has undergone a colossal digital revolution over the last two years. After the COVID-19 outbreak, colleges and schools had to quickly pivot how they approached learning delivery, moving from the classroom, in-person lessons to eLearning modules and collaboration from a distance.

Even as students have reentered the classroom, it’s clear that there’s no going back. Digital platforms are shaking up the education sector, offering students more creative, engaging ways to learn while reducing the paper-intensive workload on teachers and other faculty members.

There’s a lot to gain from embracing digital solutions in education. But there are also a few risks – especially regarding security and compliance. Schools deal with huge amounts of sensitive data such as financial information, social security numbers, names and addresses, health information, academic records, and more, making education institutions a top target for cyber-attackers.

In line with this, national news outlets recently released warnings that hackers are proactively targeting K-12 institutions due to the sensitive data they hold.

Despite these threats, the education sector’s responsibility is to ensure it upholds data security and maintains student and educator privacy. To secure sensitive data and prevent data breaches, they need a solution – and one of the most important tools to use is undoubtedly an Identity and Access Management (IAM) solution.

Read on to discover how enterprise-level IAM solutions can empower educational institutions to secure data, the advantages of using these solutions, and how to get started in your organization.

IAM: A Definition

Identity and Access Management (IAM) is integral to modern role-based security. It works by managing and monitoring user identities and privileges across an organization’s data, systems, and resources, ensuring that users can only access what they’re meant to and use data in line with security policies.

What Are the Important Components of IAM?

Now that we know what IAM is, we can look at how it works in practice. IAM has numerous components that work together cohesively. The five main aspects of IAM solutions include:

User Identities: The central component of IAM. This works by building individual identities based on source data, typically from Human Resources (HR) and Student Information Systems (SIS). Sometimes this is referred to as an identity vault. Depending on the vault type, identities can be enriched with additional data from target systems. By creating this mosaic of identities, data points (aka attributes) can be utilized in role models.

Role Models: A grouping of access rights based on job functions, typically designed using Role-Based Access Control (RBAC). For example, a “teacher role” for teachers would need access to the “teacher security group.” Individual identities with a job title that contains, for example, “Math Teacher,” “English Teacher,” or “Substitute Teacher” would be a member of the “teacher role.” An identity can be a member of any number of roles, providing access to the resources needed for their daily activities.

Identification: The process of identifying a user through their unique credentials. These credentials are compared against an internal database to decide whether or not the user should be granted access based on whether their login attempts match the data stored internally.

Authentication and authorization: This involved the user demonstrating to the solution that they are legitimate. Typically, this involves multifactor authentication or single sign-on, which requires users to verify themselves in an additional way beyond a password, such as a text message, biometric feature, or code in an application on another device. This multi-layered verification is one of the main reasons why IAM is so crucial for security. It prevents bad actors from easily using leaked or stolen passwords to break into educational institutions.

Reporting and monitoring: Reporting is another crucial part of IAM. It enables the IT team to keep a detailed audit trail of identity and access within the organization. The monitoring aspect of IAM also helps these solutions discover and block suspicious user behavior, such as a user attempting to log in from an unknown location, unknown IP address, or at a suspicious time, which could indicate compromise.

The Benefits of IAM

IAM has five major headline benefits, which we will explore in more detail below. These are:

  • An enhanced student and faculty experience
  • Guarantee downstream target system data
  • Improved security and compliance
  • Enhanced innovation
  • Simplicity and efficiency

How does IAM Improve the Educational Experience for Staff and Students?

For schools and colleges, offering students a fantastic experience is critical to maintaining engagement, achieving great end-of-year results, and maintaining a reputation as a well-respected institution.

How does IAM help with this? Well, it supports an excellent online experience in numerous ways, including:

Automated, fast access: An excellent IAM solution will harness the power of source data and analytics to automate account provisioning, making it much easier for students to access the resources they need when they need to – without having to wait for the IT department to answer their request manually. The latter, as we know, can take days and hamper student productivity.

Self-service features: IAM empowers students and faculty staff members to easily manage their user accounts. This makes it easy for users to troubleshoot issues without needing to contact the IT department, creating a greater sense of autonomy.

Intuitive to use: With a great IAM solution, you can include all educational applications within one portal to be covered under IAM’s single sign-on feature. This makes it super fast and simple for students to access all the apps they need with a single password, saving them a lot of time each day that would otherwise be spent logging on to different accounts.

Why is target data accuracy important?

With today’s complex environments, users require access to multiple systems to complete their daily tasks. Therefore, how individual attributes are moved between systems is crucial to guarantee that the value is correct.

Single Source of Truth: By designating one set of data as your “Source” and synchronizing that source data to your target systems, you have created a Single Source of Truth. Typically a source system will be your HR or SIS system. Data within one of those systems will be considered the correct value and pushed down to your target systems. For example, the HR system city attribute contains the value of Seattle, but the target system has Tacoma. Your IAM solution will synchronize the Seattle value to the target system. As a result of proper downstream target system data, your IT team can be confident that staff and student target data is an accurate reflection of your source data.

Why IAM Is Important For Data Security And Compliance In The Educational Sector?

From a security perspective, IAM is a must for educational institutions. It helps with the following:

Greater control and visibility: IAM provides deep visibility over who is accessing what data through which accounts. More than that, these solutions give IT administrators excellent control over which identities can access what data. In addition, these controls can be amazingly granular, allowing you to choose how users access data based on factors like their location, the time of day, and the device they use. In tandem, this protects against the risk of data leakage while also reducing the likelihood of account compromise.

Compliance: Colleges and schools have a constitutional responsibility to protect the data of their students and faculty members. Unfortunately, a single compromised user account can undermine your data security strategy, leading to a huge data breach that lands your institution in the papers. This is undeniably bad for business. The good news is that IAM supports data security and compliance by reducing the chances of account takeover attacks and giving you more control over how students and teachers use sensitive information.

What Are The Advantages Of Using IAM In The Educational Sector For Innovation And Efficiency?

The final two major benefits of IAM for education center around innovation and efficiency. Here’s how IAM can support both of these:

Better onboarding for new students and faculty: With IAM, you’ll receive a centralized identity portal, where you can easily manage and even automate the student onboarding and offboarding process. This dramatically improves efficiency and student productivity while easing the burden on your in-house IT administrators.

Enhanced productivity: One of the major benefits of IAM is that your students and teachers don’t need to be on school property to access the resources they need. They can work from anywhere, enabling your people to be more productive.

Foster innovation: New cloud tools and applications are being released by the day – many of which are geared towards educational institutions like yours. To take advantage of these solutions, you must have a secure foundation. Otherwise, a new application becomes another potential source of data leakage or theft. With a great IAM solution in place, you can more confidently embrace innovative solutions and offer your students a better digital experience that enhances learning outcomes.

Ready To Harness The Potential of IAM in Your Organization?

Make sure students have the access they need to get the most out of their education, starting on day one.

From K-12 to higher-ed, our software solutions meet the daily challenges of the education market.

How Tools4ever Unleashes the Power of IAM in Your Institution

Tools4ever is here to help make your students and their educators successful. We have you covered with two enterprise-level IAM solutions, HelloID (cloud) and NIM (on-premise). In addition to IAM, HelloID offers SSO to simplify the end-user password management dilemma. Contact us to find out more.