By. Meredith Biesinger
The 2019-2020 school year ended abruptly for many school districts due to COVID-19. Many teachers and parents scrambled to conduct virtual classes in order to make the best of a difficult situation. We are now quickly approaching 2021, and for many students and educators, virtual learning is still their “new normal.”
Fast forward nine months and schools, teachers, students, and their families have adjusted to virtual learning. Across the nation, students, parents, and educators are experiencing another school year unlike any we’ve seen before. Some districts have opened their doors to welcome students back, while many others are still relying on remote learning. Of course, the main focus during this pandemic consists of health and safety risks, coupled with the necessity of students still learning. While schools have worked hard to overcome the challenges of remote learning, there is a lurking issue that has received little attention; cybersecurity. How do we secure the millions of laptops, Chromebooks, and iPads that were previously distributed, or recently provided to children, to support the remote learning process? What do we need to do to ensure our students are safe while learning remotely?
This 2020-21 school year has ushered in a flood of vulnerable devices that could potentially compromise home and school networks alike. In defense of school districts, very few organizations were planning for the long term effects of this global pandemic. So it makes sense that a cybersecurity strategy for remotely located devices isn’t fully in place. If you’re asking what could go wrong? The answer is plenty, and here are just a few examples:
- A hacker could potentially access the student’s laptop and then use the device’s webcam to spy on the child and family. With many families repurposing bedrooms as makeshift learning environments this becomes even more concerning.
- A compromised student device could be used as an entryway to get into other family computers or sensitive data.
- The compromised student device could even potentially provide an avenue for attackers to gain access to corporate machines connected to the same home network for work-from-home situations.
- Malware and Botnets are concerns as well.
Of course, this is a team effort. It is the parent’s responsibility to talk with their children, the students, about online risks, and ensure their home network is secure. Beyond that, what can we do? For starters, school districts need to have a cybersecurity plan in place. If you are marketing software or any kind of IT service to a school district consider offering or suggesting the following ideas: Offer an on-going remote strategy implementation, a way to ensure all devices that have been distributed to students are up to date. Make sure the web browser is secure, and that all virus and threat protection is downloaded and enabled. Consider offering cyber insurance, and lastly, providing cybersecurity awareness training for students and staff is a great idea and offering with a product at this time of increased virtual learning.
Whether we are at home, at school, online, or in the workplace, our end goals are the same: safety, and success.