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Data Backup and Recovery for Educational Institutions: The A+ Backup Plan

According to the National Cyber Security Alliance, 60% of small businesses that suffer a major data loss incident are forced to shut down within 6 months. For educational institutions, the stakes are even higher. With sensitive student records, critical operational data, and strict compliance regulations, the consequences of data loss or a cybersecurity breach can be catastrophic. 

As educational institutions continue to depend more on technology, cyberattacks against their systems, and the sensitive data they store, are on the rise. Universities, school boards, and K-12 schools are becoming easy desirable targets for hackers as they typically have limited security measures and are considered a data rich environment

According to Sophos’ annual study of the real-world ransomware experiences of IT/cybersecurity which was conducted in 2023, education was the single most targeted industry, surpassing other sectors such as construction, government, and healthcare.  

Case Study: The University of Winnipeg 

During the month of March, the University of Winnipeg fell victim to a devastating cyber-attack. The incident resulted in the theft of personal information belonging to current and former students and university employees. The information is believed to include bank account information for current and former employees, as well as social insurance numbers, compensation information, names and phone numbers of all current and former employees since 2003. Fortunately, the University was quick to act on this attack and was able to recover their data from a backup system and provided all affected students with a 2-year identity monitoring plan. These proactive measures help safeguard the personal information that was compromised. This incident is a reminder of the importance of having a proper data backup and recovering plan in place to ensure operational continuity and protect against the devastating impacts of a cyber-attack.  

In the pages that follow, our team of cybersecurity experts have put together everything you need to know about data backup. You'll discover how to implement a strong, scalable backup and recovery system that keeps your school's data available, accessible, and secure - no matter what challenges arise. 

Why Do Educational Institutions Need to Protect Their Data? 

There are many elements that pose threats to data, ranging from cyberattacks and human errors to natural disasters and hardware failures. As stated above, educational institutions hold a vast amount of valuable data, which is now primarily stored in the digital realm. Schools are becoming increasingly vulnerable due to their growing reliance on technology. Everything from student records to sensitive financial information is stored digitally, opening the gates for potential cybercriminal activities. 

The following highlights the key reasons why educational institutions need robust protection measures. 

Safeguarding Student Records and Personal Information 

Educational institutions hold a vast amount of sensitive data, including student records, social security numbers, bank information, and transcripts. Protecting this data is crucial to maintain confidentiality and prevent unauthorized access or misuse. 

Ensuring Continuity of Operations 

Data loss or disruption can severely impact academic operations, such as online learning platforms, student information systems, and administrative processes. Robust data protection measures ensure that critical data is available and accessible when needed, minimizing operational disruptions. 

Mitigating Risks and Preventing Data Breaches 

Educational institutions are increasingly targeted by cyber threats, including ransomware attacks, phishing scams, and malware infections. Implementing comprehensive data protection strategies can help mitigate these risks and safeguard sensitive information from unauthorized access or exploitation. 

Maintaining Regulatory Compliance 

Educational institutions must adhere to stringent regulations and standards governing data privacy, such as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) in the United States and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union. As data breaches and cyber threats escalate, we are witnessing a surge in new regulations aimed at safeguarding personal information of students, faculty, and staff. Implementing robust data protection measures is crucial for educational institutions to maintain compliance with these regulations and avoid potential legal ramifications or financial penalties resulting from violations. 

Protecting Intellectual Property and Research Data 

Educational institutions often engage in research activities and generate valuable intellectual property. Proper data protection measures ensure that research data, findings, and intellectual property are safeguarded from loss, theft, or unauthorized access. 

The A+ Backup Plan 

We recommend the widely endorsed 3-2-1 backup strategy to all our clients. This "timeless" approach, advocated by backup vendors and even the United States Government, is a straightforward yet effective strategy applicable across industries. 

Proper implementation of the 3-2-1 backup strategy can help educational institutions better safeguard their data and significantly reduce the threat of ransomware attacks. The following sections cover best practices and the necessary steps to create a robust backup plan, enabling institutions to recover their data at any point in time, ensuring business continuity. 

Identify What Types of Data Should be Protected 

The process starts with governance, where you need to ensure the completeness of your backup. Map all your critical data and systems that need to be included in the backup according to their assigned business risk. This should be well-documented and communicated to all stakeholders within your organization. Below is our recommended list of data types that educational institutions should prioritize for protection: 

  • Student Information: personal details, academic records, enrollment information 

  • Staff Information: personal details, employment records 

  • Financial data: tuition and fee information, budgetary information 

  • Research data: Intellectual property, research findings 

  • Health and medical records: both student and staff 

  • Digital assets: intellectual property, learning management information  

  • Operational data: network and system information 

Select a Data Backup Solution 

Once you have identified what needs to be backed up, choose a robust backup technology that can provide a solution for all your data and systems. Ensure no critical business assets are left out due to limitations in the backup technology used by your internal IT team or external IT service provider. Modern backup solutions are powerful and affordable, enabling comprehensive protection of all business-critical systems. 

For recommended data backup solutions, we offer free consultations!

Follow the 3-2-1 Strategy  

With a clear understanding of what needs to be backed up and the appropriate backup technology in place, it's time to implement the crucial 3-2-1 backup strategy. In simple terms, this means: 

3 - Keeping three copies of data, the original and two backups. 

2 - Using two different types of media for backup (i.e. one hard drive copy and one cloud copy). 

1 - Storing one copy offsite and disconnected. 

This approach ensures that if one data copy is corrupted, ransomed, or compromised, you have two additional copies to fall back on. The use of two different media types reduces the risk of data loss due to media failure or corruption. Storing an offline copy offsite makes it significantly harder for cybercriminals to access and compromise your backup, assuming proper physical security measures are in place. 

If you need further explanation of this approach, Explaining Computers has an insightful video that breaks down the 3-2-1 rule step-by-step.  


Implement Operations and Processes 

Establish operational processes to ensure consistent backup is performed on all identified items and proper security of the backup technology itself. Failing to secure the backup software can be a critical vulnerability, allowing attackers to destroy backups and leaving victims with no choice but to pay the ransom demand or rebuild their systems and data from scratch. 

Another crucial aspect is periodic data and systems restore testing and backup validation. Regular testing ensures that your backup process and technology are functioning correctly, your team is prepared, and your organization can recover from a real cyber-attack efficiently. Maintaining an updated and tested backup strategy is essential for effective data protection and business continuity in the face of cyber threats. 

The below table provides you with a simple overview of our recommended A+ Backup Plan.




Identify What Types of Data Needs to Be Protected 

Map and document all critical data and systems that need to be backed up based on their assigned business risk, including student information, financial data, research data, and operational data. 

Select a Data Backup Solution 

Choose a robust backup technology solution that can comprehensively protect all your identified critical data and systems, ensuring no assets are left out due to technological limitations. 

Follow the 3-2-1 Backup Strategy 

Implement the 3-2-1 backup strategy: maintain three copies of data (one original and two backups), use two different media types, and store one copy offsite and disconnected for enhanced security and recoverability. 

Implement Operations and Processes 

Establish disciplined operational processes to secure the backup software, perform regular data and system restore testing, and validate backups to ensure effective recovery in the event of a cyber-attack or data loss incident. 

Paving the Way for Tomorrow's Learners 

Setting up a reliable backup and recovery system is a wise investment in ensuring education can continue without interruption. It's not just about upgrading infrastructure – it safeguards the core operations that keep schools running smoothly. In the long run, this is likely the most cost-effective way to bounce back from potential cyber threats. 

Losing access to this data can have devastating consequences, undermining trust and operations. By prioritizing robust data backup and recovery, schools and universities can protect sensitive information and maintain confidence in their services.  

The time to act is now. Implement a comprehensive backup strategy to safeguard your invaluable data, ensure uninterrupted operations, and uphold your commitment to a secure learning environment. Don't let your institution become a victim of a data breach or system failure.  

We hope this article illuminates the importance of advanced backup and recovery systems. If any questions remain, our team is ready to provide personalized recommendations. 

Click here to claim your free assessment - our cybersecurity experts will verify the health and effectiveness of your current backup strategy. 


Why is a comprehensive data backup strategy crucial for educational institutions? 

Educational institutions handle vast amounts of sensitive data, including student records, research materials, and intellectual property. A robust data backup and recovery plan is essential to safeguard this information against cyber threats like ransomware attacks, data breaches, and accidental data loss. Regular backups and the ability to quickly restore data can help minimize downtime, maintain business continuity, and protect the institution's reputation and compliance with data protection regulations. 


What are the key components of an effective data backup strategy for educational institutions? 

An effective data backup strategy for educational institutions should include the 3-2-1 backup principle: maintain 3 copies of data on 2 different media, with 1 copy stored off-site or in the cloud. This approach ensures data redundancy and protects against localized disasters or cyber attacks. Additionally, institutions should implement data encryption, access controls, and regular testing of backup and restoration processes to ensure the reliability and security of their data. 


How can cloud-based backup solutions benefit educational institutions? 

Cloud-based backup solutions offer several advantages for educational institutions, including scalable storage, automatic offsite replication, and enhanced data security. By leveraging the cloud, institutions can streamline their disaster recovery processes, reduce the need for on-premises infrastructure, and ensure data accessibility from anywhere. Cloud backups also provide an additional layer of protection against ransomware attacks, as the data is stored independently from the institution's network. 


What steps should educational institutions take to prepare for and respond to a data breach or ransomware attack? 

To prepare for and respond to data breaches or ransomware attacks, educational institutions should implement robust cybersecurity measures, including employee training on phishing prevention and data protection best practices. Institutions should also have a comprehensive incident response plan in place, outlining the steps to be taken in the event of a security incident, such as isolating affected systems, restoring data from backups, and notifying relevant authorities and stakeholders. 


How can educational institutions ensure the long-term preservation and accessibility of their data? 

In addition to regular backups, educational institutions should consider implementing data migration and archiving strategies to ensure the long-term preservation and accessibility of their data. This may involve migrating data to newer storage media or cloud platforms, as well as implementing data classification and retention policies to comply with regulatory requirements and maintain the integrity of critical information assets. 


About the Author 

With over 25 years of cybersecurity experience honed from his time as an officer in the Elite Technology Unit of the Israeli Defense Forces Intelligence Corps, David Chernitzky brings unparalleled expertise to data backup and cyber protection. As CEO and co-founder of Armour Cybersecurity, one of the fastest-growing cybersecurity companies globally, Chernitzky has built the company's success on developing cutting-edge technologies and high-performance teams focused on providing comprehensive data backup and top-tier cybersecurity solutions tailored to organizations of all sizes, particularly SMBs. 

David Chernitzky
CEO & Co-Founder, Armour Cybersecurity Mobile: +1-(416)-702-8867 |  Email:
77 Bloor Street West, Suite 600, Toronto, ON M5S 1M2


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