It’s hard to believe that summer is coming to an end and that back-to-school time is around the corner. For some kids, that means cyberbullies are traded in for school bullies and social engagement will turn into in-person interactions. But for others — dubbed Extreme Internet Users — the screen stays. When it comes time to go back to the classroom, the six hours or more a day these kids spent online during summer may be curtailed in favor of educational screen time instead.
Every year around this time, I reflect on how much has changed for children, especially when it comes to mobile devices in the classroom. This trend has become increasingly popular and, on the rise, as technology has improved, education adapts to rapid changes, and our world becomes more interconnected. Either these devices are given to kids or their classrooms by their school, or parents are encouraged to purchase one for their child to help support internet research and to digitize note-taking and homework.
Regardless of whether you’re a technophile or technophobe when it comes to leveraging screens in education, one thing is for sure – their presence in learning environments is here to stay. And with this shift, security is of the utmost importance.
Since January 2016, there have been 353 cybersecurity incidents in the United States related to K-12 public schools and districts. These attacks range include phishing, ransomware, DoS attacks and breaches that have exposed personal data. However, the question – what motivates cybercriminals to target schools? – still persists. The answer is complex, because what cybercriminals could exploit depends on what they want to accomplish. Extorting school faculty, hacking private student data, disrupting school operations, or disabling, compromising, or re-directing school technology assets are all regular tools of the trade when it comes to hacking schools.
You may not be able to control how your child’s school thinks about cybersecurity, but you can take matters into your own hands. There are steps you can take to make sure your child is ready to face the school year head-on, including protecting their devices and their data.
- Start a cybersecurity conversation. Talk with school faculty about what is being done in terms of a comprehensive cybersecurity plan for your child’s school. It’s worth starting the conversation to understand where the gaps are and what is being done to patch them.
- Install security software on all devices. Don’t stop at the laptop, all devices need to be protected with comprehensive security software, including mobile devices and tablets.
- Make sure all device software is up-to-date. This is one of the easiest and best ways to secure your devices against threats.
- Teach your child how to connect securely on public Wi-Fi networks. Public Wi-Fi networks are notoriously used as backdoors by hackers trying to gain access to personal information. If Wi-Fi is absolutely necessary, ensure the network is password protected. However, if you want a secure encrypted connection, consider using a virtual private network (VPN).
- Designate a specific date and time for regular data back-ups. If ransomware hits, you won’t have to pay to get your child’s information back. You can back up that personal data to a physical external hard drive or use an online backup service, such as Dropbox or Google Drive. That way you can access your files even if your device gets compromised.
- Understand your child’s school bring your own device (BYOD) policy. Each school is different when it comes to BYOD and understanding your child’s school policy will save you a headache down the road. Some schools buy devices for students to rent, with parents having to pay for any incidentals, and some ask parents to buy the devices outright. Take the time to understand your child’s school policy before accidents happen.