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Maintain FERPA Compliance with Concentric AI

5 min read

When we think about digital transformation and massive migration to the cloud, the private sector likely comes to mind. However, educational institutions are increasingly leveraging digital platforms for student records and academic activities (though some may be slower to adopt).  

For the education sector, since much of the data held and processed belongs to minors, protecting student data is a top priority. 

The key issue here is trust, especially between institutions and students. Thus, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) was created to help set rules and guidelines around data and privacy protection.   

Established in 1974, FERPA is a federal law in the United States that protects the privacy of student education records and setting the standard for protecting sensitive student data.  

FERPA requires educational institutions that receive federal funding to have robust security measures in place — including physical security controls, network security mechanisms, and procedural safeguards to ensure comprehensive data protection.  

What are the key principles of FERPA and who do they apply to? 

FERPA is comprised of several core principles designed to protect the privacy and security of student education records: 

  •  Privacy: Protects students’ educational records by restricting the use and disclosure of that data. The objective is to ensure students’ rights to their information and apply rules on the release of academic records. 
  •  Access: Establishes the rights of parents and eligible students to access and review their education records, ensuring transparency and allowing for corrections if inaccuracies are found. 
  •  Directory Information: While most information in a student’s education record is protected by FERPA, there’s some information termed “directory information” that can be disclosed without consent, unless the student or parent opts out. 
  •  School Official: Allows schools to share student records without consent to school officials with legitimate educational interests. 

 FERPA applies to all schools receiving funds under an applicable program of the U.S. Department of Education, including public and private elementary and secondary schools and post-secondary institutions. 

Individual rights under FERPA

 FERPA grants students and their parents several rights concerning their educational records, including: 

  •  Right to Access: Students and parents have the right to review or obtain copies of their educational records. 
  •  Right to Amend: If students or parents believe that information in the records is inaccurate, they have the right to request amendments. 
  •  Right to Control Disclosure: Students and parents can control the disclosure of certain data from their educational records. 
  •  Right to File a Complaint: If they believe their rights under FERPA have been violated, students and parents may file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education. 

What important cybersecurity statistics are there for the education sector?

 As educational institutions continue to embrace digital technologies, they also face skyrocketing cybersecurity threats. Understanding the current landscape of cyber threats and challenges in protecting sensitive data is crucial for schools and universities.  

 The following stats shed light on the magnitude of these challenges and emphasize the urgent need for robust cybersecurity measures to protect educational infrastructure. 

 Escalating threats: Educational institutions are seeing an alarming average of 2,507 cyberattack attempts each week in 2023. This significant number highlights the urgent need for robust security protocols to protect sensitive data. 

 Persistent ransomware: Two-thirds of educational organizations have faced ransomware attacks, with a recovery of all data in only 4% of cases. The financial impact is also severe, with an average remediation cost of $1.42 million per incident. 

 Staffing challenges: Recruiting skilled cybersecurity personnel continues to be a major hurdle for 62% of education administrators, emphasizing the need for comprehensive training and development programs in cybersecurity. 

 Dramatic impact: The far-reaching effects of cyber threats have impacted over 1.8 million students in the U.S. since 2020, showcasing the extensive consequences of these security breaches. 

 What are some examples of FERPA violations?

 Understanding and adhering to FERPA regulations is a crucial step for educational institutions in protecting student privacy. FERPA violations can occur in various forms, often unintentionally, through mishandling of student information.  

 The following examples illustrate common scenarios where FERPA compliance may be breached. 

Unauthorized disclosures 

  • Unauthorized sharing of a student’s recommendation letter with potential employers 
  • A vendor is granted access to student records without proper authorization 
  • Contracts with vendors who perform data mining on student information without consent 

Improper release of information  

  • Releasing educational records to parents of students aged 18 or over without the student’s approval 
  • Confidential information about students shared by school officials with unauthorized parties, including the media and on social networks 

Communication mishaps 

  • School officials accidentally sending confidential emails to unintended recipients 
  • Public postings of student grades with identifiable information 
  • Discussing sensitive student details over the phone without verifying the caller’s identity 

How Concentric AI helps educational institutions maintain FERPA compliance

 With Concentric AI, there are three key steps to ensure your institution is compliant with FERPA.  

  1. Discover and identify student data: The first step towards FERPA compliance is identifying where all instances of student data reside within your institution. Concentric’s Semantic Intelligence solution leverages advanced machine learning and AI to autonomously scan and categorize student data, regardless of where it’s stored — structured and unstructured data repositories, email/messaging applications, cloud or on-premises storage – all with semantic context. It identifies the data, learns its usage patterns, and determines if it’s at risk. This thorough discovery and identification process is crucial for educational institutions aiming for FERPA compliance.
  2.  Monitor and classify student data for risk: After identifying student data, it’s equally important to monitor its usage, sharing patterns, and access logs. This continuous monitoring can quickly and accurately detect risks from inappropriate permissions, risky sharing, and unauthorized access. Concentric AI handles this process autonomously, alleviating the burden on IT and security teams, who often lack those resources in the education sector. Plus, our solution classifies data based on its sensitivity and significance, enabling institutions to apply suitable data protection measures and implement data retention policies.
  3. Remediate data risk issues: The final step is to tackle any data risk issues that emerge. Concentric’s Risk Distance™ analysis leverages deep learning to compare each data element with baseline security practices used by similar data to detect risk — without relying on rules and policies. Concentric AI addresses these access risks in real-time – whether it’s remediating access control issues, disabling sensitive file sharing, or blocking an attachment in a messaging platform.  

 With Concentric AI, educational institutions are empowered to:   

  • Identify personal student data  
  • Determine the level of sensitivity for student data 
  • Apply appropriate data protection measures  

Harnessing deep learning and AI, Concentric Semantic Intelligence™ offers a content-based, categorized view of your student data and a risk rating for all exposed data.  

 Security, privacy, and compliance teams for educational institutions can effortlessly identify and remediate inappropriate sharing, unauthorized access, or incorrect entitlements of sensitive data, which goes a long way in preventing data breaches. 

 Book a demo today to see firsthand — with your own data — how Concentric AI can quickly and easily be deployed to manage student data risk in your institution.  


Libero nibh at ultrices torquent litora dictum porta info [email protected]

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