Combating Cybersecurity Risks for Online Learning During COVID-19

Combating cybersecurity risks for online learning during COVID-19.

cybersecurity risks for online learning

Photo by Thomas Park on Unsplash

The year 2020 and the arrival of COVID-19 have continued to provide people worldwide with new challenges they never anticipated. Six months ago, we never would have realized that the schooling of our children would be so affected as well. Now, most kids are either learning online full-time or working in a hybrid system between home and school.

Whatever the case may be, if you’re using technology for education, you’re subject to the possibility of cybercrime. Hackers and criminals understand that you’re in unfamiliar territory, so they’re employing new tactics to try and steal your information and harm your family. Let’s take a look at the current situation and how to protect those you love.

A new problem

This isn’t just a scare tactic. Cyberattacks during this period of online learning are growing with alarming frequency. Since the year started, there’s been a variety of phishing attacks and privacy invasions that have made an already unusual situation even more complicated. In fact, in June alone, 61% of the millions of cyber breaches that occurred in the US were attacks on the educational sector. Often, the problem comes down to the simple fact that no one was prepared for this alarming change, and without the proper preparation, staffing, and planning, hackers are getting through the cracks. 

It all comes down to the theft of information. School servers hold private information about parents, students, teachers, and more, and if hackers get into the network, they can use that data for malicious means. Your email address may seem harmless, but it can be used to send out fake emails to people you know. Worse than that, if cybercriminals get ahold of your social security number, they could take out fraudulent loans.

Even if you’re only using Zoom to communicate with teachers, you could still be at risk. Recently, a Berkeley student exposed himself during a Zoom class, causing emotional damage. On top of that, hackers who gain access to Zoom meetings could steal the information written on documents that are shared on-screen. Also, if you have a habit of leaving your camera on after the school session has ended, who knows what a hacker could hear or see. To avoid these issues, make sure that you don’t give out meeting info, turn off the camera when you are done, and mute your calls when you aren’t talking.

Common scams

The best way for parents and teachers to keep information protected during online learning is to know the common threats and how to avoid them. When it was announced that kids would be learning from home, school officials and parents alike began panicking and looking for online tools that would help make the learning process easier. However, installing software without vetting it first could introduce a virus directly to your computer.

Often, hackers put free tools online that promise to make your computer run faster or protect you from viruses, but in reality, these are malware that allow a hacker to take control of your computer. If you ever find a piece of software that you think will help with online learning, first bring it up to the IT team at the school so they can tell you if it is legitimate. 

Another common tactic that hackers are using is the phishing email, which is meant to look like an authentic communication, but instead, includes a malicious link or attachment that provides access to the hacker when clicked. Phishing emails are being sent out in record numbers recently as criminals take advantage of our uncertain times. Earlier this year, Boston public schools were inundated with phishing emails that promised fake food cards to low-income students. Although no one fell for it, if they had, hackers could have stolen their information and caused additional harm to those who were already struggling.

Avoid falling for phishing scams by realizing the signs:

  • An email appears to be from a professional source but has a general email address from Yahoo, Gmail, etc.
  • A communication filled with spelling errors.
  • Unfamiliar links or attachments that you were not expecting.
  • Anything addressed vaguely to “whom it may concern” or “dear sir or madam.”

Create a successful and secure classroom

For your children to succeed, parents should set up comfortable learning environments that are safe and secure. Provide suitable workstations with strong desks and comfortable chairs. There should be good lighting so the students are not struggling to see, and you should keep all school supplies and documents organized and put away when not in use.

Of course, you should also have a secure online connection so students can stay connected with classmates and improve their learning experience. This is where you need to be careful and allow ease of access while mitigating cybersecurity risks. As a first step, install a Virtual Private Network for your school-issued computers so your students can communicate freely without the hackers pinpointing your specific location.

Along with that, you should implement the basic steps that businesses use to thwart cybercrime. That includes using passwords on all accounts and devices that are difficult to guess with a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters. It also means having antivirus software on your home computers and scanning for viruses every week. 

We are surely in new and uncertain times right now, but you can take small steps to stay protected. Keep an eye on the scams above and help your student learn without fear.

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