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Security could be a challenge in the new normal for education

Security could be a challenge in the new normal for education


Since the beginning of the pandemic, the world has changed, with much of life moving online. Not least affected is education: Sitting rooms have become schoolrooms, kitchens have become cafeterias, and gardens have become playgrounds.

There has been much to contend with to make this work. While time management, balancing home life and school, and maintaining routines may all be prescient concerns, one of the most pressing issues moving forward may be less obvious: information security.

And as this is Privacy Awareness Week, ESET is exploring how educators might tackle this obstacle, and other ways the lockdown could change education forever.

The trials and tribulations of e-schooling, whether it is formally structured and overseen by educational institutions, or a less formal model adopted by parents on an individual basis, have been playing out over the course of the lockdown. There have been frustrations: frozen and intruded-upon Zoom calls, inaccessible online materials, struggles to stay focused – and there have been highlights: creative approaches to traditional ways of learning, and a greater flexibility in both structure and content. However, as e-schooling starts to become the new normal, a longer-term concern for educators and students alike is how to maintain online privacy and data protection as personal information, such as grades and behavioural reports, needs to be shared.

Moving forward, there is likely to be a far greater emphasis on virtual classrooms. Especially for higher education, the question “Is there any reason to do this online?” may be replaced with “Is there any reason to do this in person?” This will allow remote learning to take on a life of its own, rather than simply being supplementary to in-class content.

Additionally, across all levels, inter-school collaboration will be better facilitated, not just between teachers but also among students. However, the lessons we’re learning from the current pandemic are widespread. Video calling platforms that are – or were initially – less secure will be sidelined in favor of those with end-to-end encryption to prevent unauthorized participants from joining calls. More thought will go into the communications teachers and students use on a daily or weekly basis to ensure that they are kept secure and private.

With increasing amounts of personal data stored on online systems, multifactor authentication will move from an attractive optional extra to a non-negotiable requirement. When accounts are secured solely with a password, they are vulnerable to all manner of cybersecurity risks – and this is compounded in school settings. Schools often assign users standard default passwords, which users may forget to change, meaning that malicious actors could easily hack into their accounts. When there are no physical, in-person exchanges of information, the platforms used to replace them must adhere to a high standard of security. Implementing multifactor authentication is one way to do this, mitigating damage from all manner of hacks and scams.

Perhaps the most important potential change to education as a result of the coronavirus restrictions is expanding the teaching of cybersecurity in schools. As teachers and students alike increasingly capitalize on technological resources, the essential steps to keep these resources secure and those using them safe should become crucial components of curricula across the world.

Even when lockdowns are lifted and quarantines are over, the events of this year will not easily be forgotten, and neither should the difficulties of moving to remote working and learning. Teaching cybersecurity doesn’t have to be intimidating, either. For younger kids, Safer Kids Online provides a hub of easily accessible and digestible information. Everyone needs to understand the basics of cybersecurity and how to protect themselves and their data online – and the best way to do this is to teach students at all levels about cybersecurity.

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