As a system administrator, or even as a classroom teacher, you probably have several cloud app accounts that hold students’ names, grades, assignments, and communications. How many of these accounts do you protect with a strong password? How many of your passwords give you control over the systems your students depend on for their education? It’s time to secure these systems with strong security practices, for students’ sake.
Yeah yeah, I know…
You’ve probably seen the articles telling you not to use the most common insecure passwords, or that you should use a password manager so you can use strong passwords that even you can’t remember. Maybe you’ve even heard people tell you it’s time to start using two-factor authentication to protect your most sensitive data.
They’re right. You should, and still many of us don’t. Everyone makes a personal choice about how much energy they’re willing to put into securing their digital lives, but if you have access to sensitive student data, you have an added responsibility to get into strong security habits for their sake.
I’ve been using LastPass for 7 years now — just about as long as I’ve been an LMS system administrator. My job gives me top-level access to students’ academic records, as well as the power to massively mess up several systems that my colleagues and students depend upon. This is a lot of power in an organization, and with great power comes great responsibility.
Even something as simple as your Google Suite for Ed. account or other school email service could wreak havoc for your students and colleagues if it got into the wrong hands.
Using a password manager is a minor inconvenience that makes a major difference in the level of security I’m able to provide for my users. It enables me to use highly secure passwords on campus systems where I have access to student records, or where I have admin access.
Its “Security Challenge” feature will automatically go through your stored passwords looking for old, outdated, repeated, or compromised passwords — yes, they maintain a database of password hacks and can tell you if your Yahoo account password needs to be changed (hint: IT DOES).
You can use LastPass for free on either desktop or mobile, and it’s $12/year if you want to be able to switch back and forth between desktop and mobile. This means that even if you only use a desktop at work, you could protect all your work systems for free. I pay $1 per month — a small price to pay for excellent security with minimum hassle.
LastPass isn’t the only choice — competitor Dashlane also gets favorable reviews, 1Password is especially great if you mostly use Apple devices, and open-source DIY solution KeePass is a great free option for people who’d rather keep their data completely under their own control.
Another security precaution you should consider is using two-factor authentication. This is an added layer of security to protect your most sensitive accounts because it depends on something you know (your password) and something you have (your smartphone). A surprising number of sites use two-factor authentication, including household names like Google, Twitter, Facebook, WordPress, Outlook.com, Yahoo, LastPass, Evernote, and many more.
The way it works is that, when you are about to login to a sensitive site, they text an additional login code to your phone to make sure it’s you. This way, even if your password has been compromised, it’s an added layer of security.
Again, this is a minor inconvenience that adds major security to your most sensitive accounts, making it much harder for a would-be attacker to compromise your password with a brute-force attack. I secure my LastPass password manager with two-factor, adding another level of security onto my passwords.
Just do it
In the end, adopting a password manager is one single thing you can do to drastically increase your own security and the security of the students whose data you access. It makes many online tasks easier (remembering passwords, filling forms, changing passwords, securing sites) and a couple slightly harder (logging in takes an extra step), but overall, it’s worth doing, if not for your own sake, then for the sake of your students.
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