Cybersecurity tips for the next school year

Anton P. | August 24, 2022

Coming back to school is stressful enough, and cybersecurity for kids can get neglected amidst the chaos. However, digital security is one of the most important lessons parents and educators should teach.

And with a new school year approaching, little ones will likely spend more time behind screens. Sadly, increased time online also means more exposure to threats like cyberbullying, harassment, malware, or inappropriate content.

Parents and students should work together to make their online presence as safe as possible. Here we discuss the helpful cybersecurity recommendations for the next school year.

back to school cybersecurity 101

Why should students learn about cybersecurity early on

Teaching children about cybersecurity before returning to school is as important as purchasing school supplies. Many educators use online systems to track students’ progress, enter grades, or assign homework.

Furthermore, some education facilities can still rely on virtual classroom software for online teaching. Remote learning options flourished during the COVID-19 pandemic, and many schools still use them.

In fact, school districts in the US will continue offering virtual learning this fall. So, remote classrooms shifted from a temporary solution to a possible long-term practice.

Also, students will likely spend more time looking for information or resources online. Besides school-related activities, many of them will try playing games or sign up for social networks. Thus, knowing how to navigate in these environments, which can be hostile, is vital.

The need for safer online learning

Companies have introduced new technologies to accommodate remote learning. That includes video conferencing programs and mobile applications. However, online classes are more vulnerable than traditional teaching methods.

For instance, Zoom quickly rose to popularity during the pandemic. Unfortunately, its vulnerable nature has put remote learning activities in danger.

Zoom-bombing and other video conferencing concerns

Zoom-bombing refers to strangers hijacking virtual lessons. People with malicious intent would target unprotected calls.

For instance, many educators might have accidentally or deliberately shared meeting links publicly. On one occasion, intruders hijacked a UF student government meeting and showed graphic and offensive content to students.

Usually, it is common to indicate the following threats when it comes to video conferencing tools:

  • Vulnerable software.
  • Interception of communications.
  • Invasion of privacy when students do not realize their cameras are active.
  • The type of encryption used for meetings.

Phishing sites

Phishing and social engineering scams exploit almost every industry, activity, and service. It also reached educational organizations and online learning communities.

Hackers have registered domains that mimic popular video conferencing tools like Google Meet and Zoom. Links to such imposter websites likely expect users to download malicious software or reveal credentials.

Other phishing scams targeting students include the following fraudulent scenarios:

  • Special back-to-school emails, offering supplies or tech gadgets at lower prices.
  • Malicious links to academic services and resources.
  • Fake emails from faculty members, staff, or other students.
  • Misleading emails claiming problems with school tuitions or other financial matters.

Infected USB flash drives

Students and teachers use USB flash drives to upload files to school computers. Despite many cloud storage options, USBs remain a preferred option in many classrooms. Sadly, USBs can carry malware and viruses and transfer them after getting plugged into another device.

DDoS hitting educational systems or resources

Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks can crumble many services, including school systems. Teachers and students might need to go for offline methods instead. Furthermore, if primary learning management systems are down, students and teachers might look for alternatives, which might not be as secure.

Oversharing and cyberbullying

Students starting a new year might spend more time exploring social media. However, such networks expose children to many risks. Studies have shown that children are more susceptible and affected by content marketing. It refers to ads on social media that promote products without explicitly mentioning them.

Also, social networks can introduce students to various people. Some might have ill intentions, hoping to gain victims’ trust and exploit them. It could relate to extracting personal information or acquiring material for blackmail.

Furthermore, online shaming is also a form of cyberbullying. Victims get humiliated and ridiculed after information about them gets posted online. It can include photos taken in secret, rumors, or lies. Sadly, our research shows that 66% of parents have no idea their children are getting cyberbullied.

Exposure to graphic and mature content

Students are likely to interact with each other and teachers via social media. It is common for classmates to have private groups to discuss various topics. Parents might not be aware of the content and conversations their children are a part of on social media.

A recent BBC experiment showcases how little protection social media offers to underaged users. Researchers set up accounts disguised as 13-year-old teenagers on the most popular social networks. After giving algorithms some data to work with, imaginary teenagers’ feeds start flooding with inappropriate content.

They include people showing off guns or selling knives. While many social networks claim to offer protections for underage users, they seem to prove inadequate. Teenagers using social media also admit to signing up even before reaching 13. And most networks seem to have no motivation for verifying users’ age.

Cybersecurity tips to follow coming back to school

Here are some cybersecurity and internet safety recommendations to make the next school year more digitally safe.

Reliable school systems and video conferencing software

Schools should evaluate the quality of programs they offer for remote or traditional learning. Students and parents can also take the initiative to challenge certain decisions and propose alternatives.

Furthermore, it is important to set specific standards for meetings. For instance, meeting codes or links should never be available to people outside its intended recipients. Teachers should also set certain protections for each meeting:

  • Set passwords for meetings to prevent outsiders from entering them.
  • Control screen sharing to prevent anyone from displaying content.
  • Prevent file sharing to ensure that files won’t be included in the in-meeting chats.
  • Have a dedicated meeting administrator that monitors participants, disables video or microphone, and can remove unwanted participants.

Educate students about phishing and other cyber threats

Students will likely own an email account at some point. So, teaching them about the most common phishing and social engineering scams is a must. Most of them can be general, like fake freebie offers or tax-related scams. However, some can relate to school affairs or target students from particular schools.

  • Parents should show children how phishing emails or dangerous links might look.
  • It is important to emphasize that students should never reveal personal information via email or other digital communication.
  • Most email providers offer some parental controls over children’s email accounts. Consider adding them to oversee communications or boost account security.

Furthermore, making cybersecurity a common topic for discussion at home is highly beneficial. Parents should educate their children about fake apps or those that harvest too much information. Many mobile applications have targeted underage audiences for things like ad fraud or lure them with back-to-school trends.

Protect children on social media

Kids younger than 13 should not start using social media platforms. Even when they reach an appropriate age, adults should oversee their activities, especially the content they see.

One option is getting parental control tools. Such programs can filter web content, perform location tracking, and oversee social media app usage. For instance, setting time limits is a common way to limit exposure to social media.

However, parents should also be cautious about posting their children’s photos on social media. It might not always be appropriate, and consequences can range from embarrassment to identity theft.

General guidelines for secure digital lifestyles

Even adults struggle with cybersecurity strategies. However, implementing these strategies for the next school year and beyond drastically reduces online risks:

  • Create strong and lengthy passwords containing letters, special symbols, and numbers.
  • Add two-factor authentication for accounts whenever possible.
  • Stranger danger is just as relevant online. So, never trust people you meet via online means.
  • Instead of USB flash drives, children should go for cloud options for making presentations or transferring files.
  • Discuss topics like sexting, cyberbullying, grooming, predators, and inappropriate content.
  • Monitor activities like online gaming, social media posts, instant messaging, chat rooms, and others.
  • Use a Virtual Private Network to protect internet activities at home and school.
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Anton P.

Anton P.

Former chef and the head of Atlas VPN blog team. He's an experienced cybersecurity expert with a background of technical content writing.

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