Login Syncing: Better Together with Digital Identity Management
Login Syncing: Better Together with Digital Identity Management
As K-12 continues its journey down the path of digital transformation, one top priority of many medium to large districts is enhancing the learning experience, while improving cybersecurity, across the organization. However, this goal continues to become more and more difficult to achieve, particularly as bad actors online are increasingly targeting education through multiple cyberattack methods. Microsoft’s threat activity tracker demonstrates that education is presently the most affected industry, by a long shot, based on malware encountered.
The majority of U.S. districts are currently assessing or have already rolled out single sign-on (SSO) services to improve the login experience for students and teachers to digital learning resources. While that’s a crucial step in the right direction, SSO alone is not the full solution districts need. To truly protect students and educators online, K-12 districts must center their technology strategy around digital identities.
K-12 Cyber Threats are Rising
One of the most typical ways bad actors attack academic organizations is to find weak spots in the authentication process when the user’s digital identity is verified. Chances are, you’ve probably repeated your password on plenty of systems. Maybe you use a handful of the same passwords because it’s difficult to remember a separate password for each system.
Have you considered what happens when that password shows up on the dark web?
A malicious actor pays roughly $30 for your password, and then uses it to gain access to district systems. That means the bad actor then has all the same permissions as you and can wreak havoc in a variety of ways. This may include stealing student data, committing identity theft of faculty and staff members, and holding the district ransom by restricting access to the edtech ecosystem from district’s users.
Many districts who implement SSO services are also considering login syncing services, which simply automates the account provisioning process to reduce time spent creating and closing accounts for Office 365 or Google Classroom. But what if the synced password is the same password that was purchased by the malicious actor on the dark web?
The best method to drive progress on both the learning experience and cybersecurity is to place digital identities at the center of the district’s technology strategy. That means developing a robust identity management program that extends security capabilities far beyond login syncing. To differentiate login syncing and digital identity management, there are three important cybersecurity concepts to understand.
Difference #1: Granular Digital Identities
Today, most districts still consider identity management as simply the process to automate creating accounts so that users receive access to the tools they need. However, digital identities play a key role in securing a district’s staff and students, as well as providing your users with a great experience.
True identity management can deliver access to digital resources to faculty, teachers, students, and parents instantly, known as “zero-day access”. Furthermore, digital identity management can assist districts in determining whether users' credentials are compromised. The district can be notified of a breach immediately, and enroll the user in a multi-factor authentication (MFA) policy until their password is safely changed.
In addition, many districts discover that their login syncing tools do not account for differences in data structures for each of their domains. This can cause security complications as district’s often use multiple domains, such as one for students and one for staff. Security policies tied to access for multiple user types can be broken, resulting in security vulnerabilities.
To complicate matters further, K-12 districts commonly work with contractors, vendors, partners, visitors, and others who require temporary access to systems. However, it can be difficult to manage third-party access as it is often created on an ad-hoc basis. The person who grants the access is usually not involved in details such as how long access is required, and would not remember to restrict access when the account is no longer needed. These accounts are left open and forgotten over time. As the quantity of these accounts continues to grow, so does the immense vulnerability created.
Difference #2: Centralized Administration Covering All Systems and Users
The centralized administration of digital identities allows district IT teams to manage millions of district identities. The IT department does not have to manage policies in multiple tools, which saves time and ensures consistency of policies. In addition, it comes at very low cost and administrative burden. By centralizing administration of digital identities, IT can offer a seamless experience for all users, including students, teachers, administrators, parents, or third parties.
By managing digital identities for all users, districts are enabled to apply simple rules for user groups. For example, perhaps all students are granted access to one application or device, while teachers receive access to another. Policy-driven controls empower administrators easily to make changes across a large volume of users. The change is then quickly applied so users can benefit from the streamlined experience. In contrast, if the change was applied at the individual user level, users would ultimately suffer from a delay in access.
Difference #3: Unifying Online Authentication with Digital Identities
Providing your district’s identities a single sign-on (SSO) experience with a single, unified login is a great approach to prevent cyber threats. This approach starts with the user device and protects the district by blocking an attacker from moving laterally throughout the district’s system in the event of an account takeover.
District infrastructure is best protected by migrating everything possible to the cloud. This critical step acts as a segmentation defense that provides additional security over cyberattacks including ransomware and distributed denial of service (DDoS).
Next, districts should enforce multi-factor authentication (MFA) to harden endpoint security. Implementing strong authentication measures is particularly critical for entry points that are high-value, such as the HR and finance system, or systems that provide the attacker lateral movement, including Windows servers and VPNs. In fact, MFA can block over 99.9 percent of account compromise attacks. Once MFA is implemented, a password purchased on the dark web alone will no longer be enough to gain access to district systems.
Identity management can also enable K-12 districts to alleviate account takeover risk by constantly monitoring district digital identities for compromised credentials. Even from the point of account creation, the system can verify the password selected against credentials compromised in known data breaches. Later on, if a digital identity’s password is breached, the district is notified immediately of the risk. The user affected can then be enrolled in an MFA policy until they safely reset their password and remove the risk.
Using Clever or ClassLink for Classroom SSO?
K-12 is well-armed with robust SSO solutions designed for school districts, including Clever and ClassLink. Identity Automation delivers a suite of authentication capabilities, and can work with your district’s SSO service to integrate digital identity management into your ecosystem. This integration ensures that your district receives the best classroom experience with the most secure environment possible. Productivity and learning should not be sacrificed for the sake of security. All K-12 districts require both security and a streamlined learning experience.
Through our partnership with Clever, we provide districts an identity management experience that is fully integrated into the Clever platform. Even if you already have a classroom SSO provider, Identity Automation can assist in heightening your district’s security posture and enhancing the learning experience.
Go Beyond Login Syncing with Digital Identity Management
It is abundantly apparent that digital identity management delivers far more capabilities and security measures than login syncing. While login syncing is more of a user experience benefit, identity management provides both enhancements to the learning experience and protection for the district and its user base.
RapidIdentity, the digital identity platform for education, can easily be integrated into your district’s ecosystem, regardless of whether you are or are not currently leveraging SSO, ClassLink, or Clever.
If you would like to learn more about how digital identity management can help your district improve your learning experience and heighten your cybersecurity posture, click here to access our ebook on this topic.
About the Author
Gavin McKelvey joined Identity Automation in 2020 as Chief Marketing Officer. Approaching two decades in enterprise technology services marketing, Gavin has held various roles over the last two decades that focused on connecting enterprise buyers with solutions across wide area networking, cybersecurity, and communication applications. At Identity Automation, he is able to combine his passions for learning and serving his community by helping keep students safe as they learn online. Gavin holds an MBA from Georgia State University and a Finance degree from Georgetown University.