Exclusive: Securing connected technologies in the classroom

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With the COVID-19 pandemic still in full swing — including businesses shutting down and people staying at home to save lives — education has had to adapt. Specifically, remote learning is now a norm across the world. However, the connected technologies that encompass remote learning need some security measures to keep students and faculty safe.

Here are five things educators and IT professionals can do to create better safety protocols for schools:

Know the risk levels

The first step for faculty and students is to understand their risk levels. While learning remotely, students and educators have to provide personal information like student identification numbers and passwords to access various sites.

Once everyone is aware of the information they share, they’ll have a better idea of what’s at risk should any breaches or hacks occur.

From there, IT professionals must reassess the existing protocols. The resources students and teachers will need with remote learning are different from those used for in-person schooling. Everyone is conducting video calls and accessing file sharing sites like Google Drive. This setup requires layers of protection and encryption.

Avoid scams

Scams are common and during the COVID-19 pandemic, they’re only becoming more prominent. With millions of people around the globe looking for resources and information for employment, education or financial assistance, scammers are seeing this as an opportunity. Google’s systems reported 18 million phishing and malware emails per day on Gmail alone.

Students and faculty must recognise the signs of phishing emails. These messages may look perfectly normal but may ask for private information that could lead to theft. Recipients should avoid clicking on links and instead verify that the sender’s email is correct and review what they’re asking for. Students and teachers can send a separate email — not directly replying to the suspicious one — to the sender to verify who they are.

These steps are simple and IT departments should broadly enforce them — especially while remote learning continues.

Control access

Whether it’s an elementary school or university, access to remote learning platforms is necessary but should have limits. When more people have access, there are more chances for leaked information or breach points to arise. IT and cybersecurity professionals should control access to platforms of all kinds.

For instance, students will not need access to administrative platforms and not all faculty will either. Keeping access strictly to those who need it reduces the chances of a breach or hack. Often, these sites and networks contain sensitive information — it’s important to keep it as secure as possible.

Add protection

Cybersecurity for technology is powerful and beneficial in many ways. It provides layers of protection where students and educators need it most. However, if it’s not up to date and strong, issues can occur. Malware, for instance, can damage entire networks — which is why it’s critical to add multiple authentication steps, like passwords and biometrics.

In California, the Rialto schools faced a severe breach at the beginning of the fall 2020 school year. The breach compromised thousands of school-issued devices, which educators then had to collect. This event was a potential danger for spreading the coronavirus, on top of the cybersecurity threat itself.

Devices will be connecting to home and school networks. It’s critical to have antivirus software, anti-malware software, firewalls and content controls for networks and platforms like Zoom. Virtual private networks (VPNs) may also be beneficial for students and staff too. These steps keep hackers and breaches away from virtual learning environments.

Take action

A lack of action and resources is what will ultimately lead to more breaches and scams. First, cybersecurity professionals must have the correct protocols in place for when schools shift to and from online and in-person learning. That way, they aren’t scrambling to provide protection.

Next, students and faculty will need resources. They’ll need help knowing how to navigate the remote learning world, getting the best protection and reaching out with any questions they may have. An increase in education will lead to more effective recognition of scams and suspicious cyber activity.

Fairfax County Public Schools, which serves 189,000 students, recently faced a ransomware attack. This breach threatened private information and security. To avoid instances like these, more layers of protection, resources and awareness will be necessary moving forward.

Securing connected technologies

It’s unclear how long schools will need to remain remote. During each semester, administrators and IT professionals must work together to provide everyone with the safest experience possible. With the above measures, cybersecurity experts can do just that.

Devin Partida is a technology writer and the Editor-in-Chief of the digital magazine, ReHack.com. To read more from Devin, check out the site.

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