As more business leaders take their training initiatives to the cloud, there are inherent risks associated with this transition. Here are 5 cloud-based security measures to take to safeguard student data and protect the companies they represent.

How Businesses Can Maximize Cloud Security With eLearning

According to industry research, two-thirds of small businesses understand that to achieve all of their business aims, technology investment is key. At the same time, this is a sector synonymous with lean business models, cost-cutting alternatives and a growing level of tech savviness. As such, it makes sense that many leaders in the SMB sector are making the switch to cloud computing for a majority of their internal and forward-facing corporate initiatives. This includes the eLearning sector, which is being leveraged as a cost-effective online alternative to traditional training avenues.
The move is nothing new, as experts predict that by the year 2020, nearly 80% of small businesses will be fully operational in the cloud. By this point, most are already there, at least in some capacity. Even if much of the day-to-day processing still takes place manually or via hardware or software programs, if a company uses Dropbox to store and organize educational slides and other files, Gmail to access email or a CRM platform such as salesforce to manage new leads, it’s already partially made the transition.
Still, if there is an obstacle getting in the way of full cloud adoption for those remaining SMBs who haven’t yet made the total switch, it’s usually a concern around security. In fact, research reveals that 58% of business owners in this sphere are concerned about cyber attacks. Still, as development in this arena continues to sophisticate, developers understand the implications associated with a breach and are working even more diligently to safeguard their cloud-based applications against that risk. Knowing this, SMBs can more confidently check out cloud services offered by the likes of Amazon, Google and the like, that have been thoroughly vetted to be as secure as possible.
While no solution can be lock-tight against absolutely any threat of penetration, the greatest risk for cloud operation today lies within the users themselves, many of which are untrained in its operation before getting behind the wheel. Understanding this, here are 5 ways that SMB business leaders can ensure a top level of data safety and security as they prepare to make the total switch-over to cloud-based operations and educational endeavours.

1. Passwords And Authentication Are Still Key

Though it might seem like the most elementary solution on this list, the most effective means toward ensuring security with a cloud-based application is to secure it with as strong of a password as possible. Accounting for more than 80% of data breaches, password theft is a real threat to users who don’t take the time to think theirs through. They’re the most common in passwords that are less than six characters, so at the very least, lengthen yours if it’s that short.
At the same time, if you’re still using a string of logical numbers or letters, your anniversary, birthday, address or other easy-to-guess compilation, it’s time to upgrade. There are myriad techniques to follow when looking to make your passwords as strong as possible, but one of the most common and highly recommended options is to think of a sentence (including numbers) you can easily recall, then use the first letter of each word in your password, along with the numbers. For instance, you might use, “My dad and I went on a fishing trip to Minnesota when I was 11 years old.” That would translate to “MdaiwoafttMwiw11yo.” No one can find that word in any dictionary. Be sure to capitalize the letters that need it, in this case, that was the “M”s that stood in place for “My” and “Minnesota.” To make it even more difficult to crack, you can add a special character at the end, such as an exclamation point. The National Institute of Standards and Technology shares these tips for creating as strong of a password as possible.
To streamline the eLearner password process, business managers can leverage password manager applications that take care of the guesswork and generate a unique, nearly impossible-to-crack password for each user. These should be accessible from anywhere your students are, so they’re never locked out and always have access to the data they need. Look for one that can be compatible with any application, whether cloud-based, native or legacy. All passwords will then be stored and maintained on a centralized database. Using a solution such as this ensures that all team members are on the same page and aren’t scrambling to come up with strong passwords on their own. It also means fewer calls to the IT department for help with resetting logins.
While you’re at it, SMB leaders can also utilize the power of two-factor authentication to make their workplace devices, including their eLearning training laptops and tablets, even more secure. If you’ve ever tried to log in to your email from a remote location, only to be blocked until you can retrieve a one-time login code from your smartphone, you’ve seen this feature at work.

2. Don’t Give Out Access Arbitrarily

One of the greatest benefits of the cloud is that it enables anyone to access it regardless of time zone, location or device. This is why 93% of small business leaders back up at least a portion of their data with cloud storage. It doesn’t take long to figure out why. Cloud access means that information is automatically backed up and saved. It’s there any time you need it, device failure is virtually obsolete, and there are enough subscription options to always find a competitive and scalable solution that fits.
As such, it can be tempting to fire up a cloud-based application and immediately brainstorm a company-wide rollout. If a particular learning application doesn’t exist, there are even app development resources and best practices that your tech teams can follow to create one that fits your specific needs. However, at the same time, it’s unwise to permit everyone in your organization to manipulate data to the same extent. Access controls exist for a reason, as do encryption security settings. Failing to complete this simple step could leave confidential, sensitive and proprietary open, an oversight that could jeopardize the entire future of your company once revealed. For example, consider the case of Dow Jones.
In 2017, the stock market giant inadvertently revealed the contact details of more than two million customers. The culprit? A configuration error on a cloud storage server, which resulted in unauthorized access along the Amazon cloud. In another case, FedEx also fell prey to an unsecured server, which resulted in nearly 120,000 customer documents exposed. In this latter case, the information shared was more personal and damaging than contact information. It included passports, driver’s licenses and other security information.
The takeaway? Not every data breach that happens in the cloud is based on external malintent. Often, it’s an internal error that catalyzes it. Your cloud storage provider might do an excellent job of ensuring infrastructure security on their end, but it’s typically up to the business leader to ensure in-house authorization measures are in place.
There are a few ways to boost security around file sharing online. At the onset, check to see what kind of security measures are already in place by the provider to ensure data integrity. Data should be encrypted when stored and any connections used when accessing or sending data should be secure. Though some providers will include an option to make data unencrypted, it’s always in your best interest to switch this feature to “on.” Instead of giving all users equal access to the cloud storage platform, only provide them with the access they need to perform their specific job duties. Administrators should exercise control over passwords and access levels.

3. Know Your Industry Requirements

Depending on your small business’ niche, you might not be able to take advantage of cloud-based computing at all. In other cases, you may be permitted to access the cloud, but standards and regulations will mandate where on the cloud you can store your company data. Or, you might be able to maintain all of your data on in-house servers with no problem, but when you go to move it to an international server, you quickly find out that’s prohibited.
This spring, the EU rolled out the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) program, which mandates how the personal data of EU members is captured, stored and shared by businesses online. If your small business has an international presence or audience, it’s important to double-check your servers to see if the GDPR regulations affect your data centres. Here is a brief rundown of the legislation, and how it affects the ways you can collect and process personal data.
At the same time you’re investigating into which standards and mandates apply to your company, check also on how long you can securely leave data stored in the cloud. While there is no size limit to cloud storage, there is what’s known as a retention limit, meaning if you leave your files on the cloud for too long, they could become liabilities to your company. Different countries have different laws concerning how long data can remain in the cloud without being subpoenaed or audited.

4. Make Use Of Auditing Services

One of the simplest ways to stay safe in the cloud is to keep an eye on who is accessing it. Authorized administrators can perform this task in a matter of seconds by accessing the cloud provider’s built-in audit records. A service that is often free, this dashboard provides users with a high-level overview of who’s accessing their accounts, the length of time they spent there and even the steps they performed.
For added security and know-how, ask your provider to set up security alerts that will inform you if a user tries to log in from a new location or via a different device. Even if you don’t plan on relying on this mechanism to boost security, it’s a great way to stay refreshed on your team activity and ensure compliance in the event of an audit.

5. Understand The Threat Of Phishing

As companies continue to hold sensitive information in the cloud, instances of phishing have only increased. In short, it is the act of a hacker posing as a trusted resource to gain unauthorized access to cloud-based files. It remains the second most important issue in cyber security, trailing only data breaches in prominence.
Within the greater phishing realm, there’s a subcategory known as spear phishing. In this case, a hacker will create a message that is both personalized and tailored to the recipient, making the content seem even more convincing. For the most part, they’re mining social media platforms to gain access to this information, which is made to appear as trustworthy as possible.
An SMB leader’s best plan of attack against phishing is to ensure that all students understand what it is, what it looks like and how to navigate around it. The intent of a phishing attack is to encourage someone to take action on the other end. That might mean clicking on a link or opening up a landing page. When this happens, the person on the other end gains access to proprietary information in an instant. The issue? These prompts are sent from fraudulent sources, such as your cloud provider, that look incredibly realistic.
Train your students to know what to look for and how to determine if something looks fishy. Any request for money is immediately a red flag. The same goes for any message that asks for your password, account information, login information and other personal details. Legitimate companies will never request this information to be sent via email, even if the website looks deceivingly authentic.

Making The Case For Secure SMB Cloud-Based Education

While there are cloud-based security threats to be aware of in the SMB sector, the benefits continue to outweigh the risks. Leaders now have access to resources, programs and features that only their big-league counterparts could once appreciate. This extends to the eLearning sphere, meaning that there are more cloud-based educational resources than ever before to help supplement or even replace in-person training and refreshment. As such, learning to navigate this realm successfully should be a company initiative.
Hold employee training, read up on the specific requirements, and understand the intricacies of each solution before making the move. Then, when you’re ready to make that switch, you can rest assured it’s the best-suited one for your company to grow.

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