Laptops and other devices have become more and more utilized in the modern classroom over the last few decades. The abrupt shift to school-from-home with the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 expedited the education sector’s increasing reliance on technology and therefore, our children’s use of it in their everyday school lives. Today, kids are thankfully back in class in-person and the first school bells of the year are ringing out across the country this month. Students are filling the hallways once again, and in their backpacks, they bring with them technology such as their laptops, smartphones, and other gadgets to help them stay on top of assignments and also possibly distract them while in class. Not only is technology in the pockets of the young people today, but it is also used by teachers, administrators, and staff to stay on top of all the various functions necessary to keep the school operating at its best. While all of this technology coming from multiple different sources can be a useful tool in the arsenal of those associated with education, if left unprotected, every device acts as an entry point for malicious actors online. Learn how to better equip your child for the upcoming school year and lessen their online vulnerabilities with these back-to-school cybersecurity tips!
Password Protection: The most important, basic, and free step in setting up good cybersecurity best practices for your children and yourself is having passwords in place whenever possible. Not only should passwords be set up for all logins, but they need to be both strong and unique. Having passwords which consist of a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters as well as numbers and special characters is key to making them hard to guess; ensuring that one password is different from the next is also key to success in protecting your family, because if your credentials were the same for every account, you would be putting yourself at risk in the event one of the companies you use that login for was hit by a cyber attack such as a data breach.
Helping kids to remember passwords can be challenging - one way to help make passwords a bit easier to remember for your children is to use passphrases instead. This is when your password is a short sentence without spaces, often with symbols or numbers used in place of certain characters. Even with the use of helpful tips such as implementing passphrases for logins, it can be hard for anyone - regardless of age - to remember all of the logins necessary to function online today.
Consider the use of a free password manager if this is an obstacle for your family. A password manager or acts as a database for all of your unique, complex logins - if you opt to go this route, you will be required to remember one password (the password manager password) but be sure that this is a very complex, hard-to-guess passcode as it protects all of your other accounts.
Don’t Click on Random Links: While students may have to click on some links in order to access their schoolwork, it is important that they take a moment to consider if a link is legitimate or if it is a phishing attempt. In a phishing scam, a cyber criminal tries to dupe recipients of their communication into clicking on malicious links, often for the purpose of infecting their device and the networks it is connected to with malware.
Teach your child to use discernment before flicking a link, particularly if it is from an unknown sender or especially if the content of the message is urgent or demanding in nature. If a student is unsure about the legitimacy of a link that appears to be coming from someone associated with his or her school, they should try to reach out to the sender of the message via a different means of communicating to confirm that the message is in fact from who it claims to be coming from. Due to the sensitive information held on school servers, the education sector is a highly targeted one and unfortunately, cyber criminals are not above using children as their targets for entry into a school system’s networks.
Careful When Sharing Info: In the same vein of the last tip, be careful with what information you and your child share with the school system as well as on any social networks used by your family. Personally identifiable information, or PII, such as names, home addresses, contact information such as phone numbers and email addresses, as well as social security numbers and other data that can give away private information about you is highly valuable in the eyes of malicious actors. Be sure to only provide any necessary information to legitimate websites and be wary of any strangers who take interest in finding out more about you or your children.
Update Devices Regularly: A simple step that can often be automated is keeping all of the devices in your home updated on a regular basis. The manufacturers of the various tech products we purchase will continue to research and monitor their devices, which results in updates that are pushed out. These updates often include upgraded features as well as security patches for any vulnerabilities that have been detected.
Talk About Cyberbullies: One of the unfortunate consequences of the growing use of the internet by children is that bullying extends outside of the playground and can follow your children home. Be sure to talk to your kids about what to do in the event they are bullied online and also about the dangers and risks of talking with individuals they do not know online. The “keyboard warriors” who spew harmful words behind their screens are out there, and it is important to let your child know that they do not have to put up with that activity online and that you have their backs in the event of any negativity. Be sure to contact the appropriate school staff members in the event another student is being harmful to your child online.
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