Online Learning: Be on Your Guard

The COVID-19 driven rush to online learning comes with risks

The Coronavirus pandemic has abruptly closed conventional classrooms. The emergency response has moved learning online. Many educators only familiar with the wading pool of technology suddenly find themselves thrown into the deep end. Some quickly discovered the waters are dangerously polluted with identity thieves, scammers, and zoombombers. I found some useful articles and resources to help prevent drowning. Check them out below.

On April Fool’s Day 2020, the Federal Bureau of Investigation issued a Public Service Announcement. It wasn’t a prank. The PAS titled, “CYBER ACTORS TAKE ADVANTAGE OF COVID-19 PANDEMIC TO EXPLOIT INCREASED USE OF VIRTUAL ENVIRONMENTS,” says cyber criminals are actively exploiting vulnerabilities in telework and remote education systems to steal sensitive information, target people and businesses making financial transactions, and engage in extortion. The warning from the FBI states, “Today’s rapid incorporation of education technology (edtech) and online learning could have privacy and safety implications.” The FBI provides tips and guidelines in the PSA.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Boston Field Office issued a press release prompted by a rash of reports of video-teleconferencing platforms being hijacked, an activity that has become common enough to earn the nickname “zoombombing.” You cam read the warnings and suggested precautionary measures suggested here: FBI Warns of Teleconferencing and Online Classroom Hijacking During COVID-19 Pandemic.

The Zoom online meeting platform soared in popularity as people around the world shelter in place. Many educators turned to Zoom without understanding the security, privacy, harassment and other concerns of using the platform. EdSurge Managing Editor, Tony Wan, wrote about the risks of Zoom here: Holding Class on Zoom? Beware of These Hacks, Hijinks and Hazards. NPR covered the risks and quick abandonment of Zoom by some schools concerned with the risks and vulnerabilities of the platform here: Schools Ditch Zoom Amid Concerns Over Online Learning Security.

Torrey Trust, Associate professor of learning technology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, points out “Privacy and Student Data” as a top concern in her article The 3 Biggest Remote Teaching Concerns We Need to Solve Now. Torrey’s article is included in an International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) research guide called Navigating Uncertain Times: How Schools Can Cope With Coronavirus published on the EdSurge education technology news service site.

Cybersecurity news leader, SC Media offers a look at remote learning security issues in their article, Rush to adopt online learning under COVID-19 exposes schools to cyberattacks. The article highlights that school districts – already a major target of ransomware infections and extortion threats over the last few years – must take precautions so that the table hasn’t been set for a fresh wave of attacks.

With the necessary adoption of remote online learning platforms exposing users to increased risks, now is clearly the time for caution and awareness. While many mitigation efforts need to take place at the institutional level with information technology departments at school districts, colleges, and universities implementing cybersecurity best-practices, individuals need to do their part in self-defense.

Teachers, parents and students can take steps to protect themselves., a Silicon Valley, California-based nonprofit organization dedicated to educating users of connected technology about safety, privacy and security has published a useful Guide to Cybersecurity for Parents and Teens. Cybersecuirty software company Panda Security, offers an extensive guide for parents available here: Parents Ultimate Guide to Cybersecurity. The VPN Mentor blog recently published an extensive resource for teachers titled, Teacher’s Guide to Cybersecurity – Everything You Need to Know in 2020.

Bottom line: the online world is the wild west. Current circumstances mean venturing into exploration of the frontier is necessary. So, grab your hat, jump in the saddle, but be sure you have your six-shooter (AKA cybersecurity knowledge) ready to defend yourself.

Do you have a cybersecurity tip or resource to share? Feel free to post it in a comment below.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *