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TCEA Responds: Google and Student Data

by Miguel Guhlin
TCEA responds

Dear TCEA Responds:

I’m reaching out to you with a question on Google and student data.  In your opinion, how safe are we with sharing student names and assessment data on Google?  We have a strict policy of not sharing student PEIMS data, but are we safe to assume we can save student names and assessment info?

-Jill

Dear Jill:

As you may know, G Suite for Education employs a higher level of security than the consumer version of Google Suite. Google employs encryption to protect your data while it is stored on their cloud servers. On that count, it is unlikely that your data will be breached by G Suite EDU. However, should a user’s account be compromised (e.g. a successful phishing attack is one common approach), then access to any data stored in the cloud would be in danger.

Two-Step Verification

That is why ensuring you have two-factor authentication (a.k.a. two-step verification) in place is so important. Even in the face of a successful phishing attack, no one would be able to get access to the shared data. Without that in place, it is best to encrypt files or data stored in Google Drive. This, of course, would defeat the convenience G Suite EDU provides. So, I STRONGLY recommend putting two-factor authentication in place.

Encryption

If you have Word or Excel files that will need to be stored in encrypted form in Google Drive, but have no need for others to work on it, then you can use a free cross-platform solution like Cryptomator. If you intend to share a Google Sheet with student names and info, then you are far better off considering two-step verification to protect account login/password and then using G Suite EDU. A solution like SysCloud offers on-the-fly encryption.

Shared Drive Settings

Another key point to keep in mind is that G Suite EDU makes it easy for end users to SHARE data for collaboration purposes. Improper SHARING approaches (e.g. sharing a file/folder to anyone with the link and public on the web) can put sensitive data at risk without any nefarious intent from anyone.  Putting confidential data in a SHARED DRIVE (Team Drive) would make it viewable and accessible by all who have been granted rights to that shared drive.

A Response

To respond to your question, you own the data you store on Google and decide how to use it. So long as Google safeguards the data (which it does), then you own the responsibility for protecting it when the only access is via a user account. If you have taken sufficient precautions to protect user account logins/passwords and provided sufficient professional development to staff so they don’t make sharing errors, then there is no reason why you cannot store sensitive data on Google Drive’s encrypted cloud servers.

Did You Know?

TCEA is available to meet your professional development needs. We can provide friendly, education-specific professional learning on cybersecurity and cybersafety that enhances the work of faculty and staff. Reach out via phone at 800-282-8232 or via email to Lori Gracey ([email protected]).

Google and Student Data

Protecting student data is even more important today given the many data breaches that have occurred. You must make every reasonable effort to secure student data while maintaining a balance. Fortunately, you need not work alone to accomplish this. Build capacity on your team. You may find the following resources to be of interest.

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