With many people working or studying from home, the use of the Internet has been more intensive than ever, and with it, digital forms of crime have also increased significantly. This crisis is an unprecedented time for scammers and other cyber-criminals to find more victims than ever before and the rush to adapt schools to the needs of remote learning is an extremely fertile territory for attacks.
That is why every party involved should bear their part of the responsibility for the security of the system as a whole, creating a synergy between students and their families on one side and teachers and administrators on the other.
Making the right choices
EdTech offers many different tools, one more interesting than the next, but it should not be up to students and parents to choose which ones work best. Evaluating the pros and cons of every tool at their disposal, both from an educational and a cybersecurity standpoint, is a burden that should fall primarily upon teachers and IT managers with the know-how to understand which of the many possibilities best combine the features they need for online classes to run smoothly with the highest security standards.
Video conferencing, for example, raises its own concerns about setting up student accounts with credentials that might end up in the wrong hands, accidentally showing glimpses of their private lives in the background of the online meetings, and possibly, if the platform in question is not a reputable one, being recorded and creating large quantities of footage of minors that may be used for criminal purposes.
Teachers and administrators, therefore, should choose their EdTech tools very carefully, always adhering to the philosophy that all sources must be verified and the less personal information is given, the better.
Stolen data and malicious software, however, are not the only perils when it comes to making the online school experience as secure as possible: video conferencing, chats, discussion forums and any other platform that allows interaction among students are in need of strict observation and moderation on the part of teachers and authority figures in order to spot and root out any sign of cyberbullying, discrimination, threats, mental health red flags and other concerning behaviours.
Responsible choices on the school side of the equation should relieve families of most of their concerns, but that is not to say that students and their guardians have no part to play in the vital matter of cybersecurity.
Educating responsible citizens
Now that many students are learning from home rather than using school computers, the network has expanded to include personal devices that may or may not be fully updated and equipped with the appropriate protective software, which puts schools in a weaker position than before.
It is paramount that we make cybersecurity a part of our students’ education: school is meant to shape the citizens of tomorrow and encouraging best security practices and modelling correct online behaviour are two of the greatest gifts teachers can give the next generation.
Requiring, or at least strongly recommending, the latest software updates is a first and necessary step towards a safer remote learning experience, but even when all devices are properly outfitted for the journey, online classes are only as safe as we make them.
Reminding students to ignore suspicious links and attachments, providing lists of approved websites you know to be safe for their research, and teaching them good habits such as changing their passwords regularly and not sharing them with anyone, being wary of anyone asking for personal information, and checking the legitimacy of the website URL before browsing further, with particular attention to any variations in spelling or domain, are all relatively simple steps you can take to make remote learning safer and instil appropriate behaviours that will stay with them far beyond their school days, keeping them protected in the workplace and in their private lives as well.
Even your students’ parents and guardians may thank you for turning your attention to the matter of cybersecurity and potentially alerting them to any security weaknesses in their home devices: a proper cybersecurity education in the time of COVID-19 could stand to benefit the long-term online safety of hundreds of families.