As virtual learning has become the norm throughout this past year, and will continue to be the primary way of learning for most schools throughout the next semester, educators and students have had to adapt and change in many ways. As students are learning best practices and streamlined approaches to virtual learning, they must also consider something else, their privacy. All too often in this past year, hackers have been able to break into school systems, risking the personal safety and information of so many students. 

Here, the educational technology professionals at SchoolMart discuss the importance of digital citizenship, education and understanding as it relates to K-12 students, as well as tips to keep them safe as they enter this new year of virtual learning.

Recent Cyber Attacks Have Made K-12 Students Vulnerable

Did you know that up to 80% of students have been affected, or had a family member or friend affected by a cyber attack? While cyber attacks amongst K-12 schools have increased in recent years, COVID-19 has brought an entirely new wave of digital threats. One of the most common attacks has been a distributed denial of service, or DDoS attack. These attacks disrupt normal traffic to a network by completely overwhelming the target. Individual devices infected with malware, called botnets, will then target and affect the network, overloading it with traffic. This is difficult to correct, since each bot is on a legitimate device, making it hard to identify which servers are infected with malware. This form of cyberattack is quite disruptive for students and educators, but is not inherently harmful. 

However, another form of cyber attack that has plagued school systems across the country are ransomware attacks. As it sounds, ransomware attacks threaten to publish the victim’s data or personal information if a ransom is not paid. Just months ago, hackers exposed personal data from students in a Nevada school district, including social security numbers, grades and other personal information after the district did not pay the ransom requested. While it is not common, the risk for a ransomware attack has increased during the pandemic, and with virtual learning moving into next semester, parents, students and educators must do all they can to prevent personal data from being leaked.

Students & Parents Should Utilize Digital Safety Programs for Protection and Confidence

While a cyber attack is never 100% preventable, there are many steps students and parents can take to reduce their risk of attack and protect their privacy. This begins with research and utilization of educational resources for both students and parents. Thankfully, in this digital age, there are a myriad of resources available that create a clear and detailed understanding of the importance of digital safety. For parents and educators, there are courses and certifications available through many independent organizations, such as iKeepSafe. Additionally, government agencies have shown the importance of digital citizenship at a young age, incorporating programs for students, such as the FBI’s Safe Online Surfing resources.

After you do preliminary research regarding digital citizenship and safety, it is best to discuss ways you can protect your computer. This means installing antivirus software on all computers within the home, and frequently checking for updates. Additionally, you and your student may want to take extra steps for protection during this time, such as using a VPN. A VPN, or virtual private network, creates a private network from a public internet connection, masking your IP address so that you are virtually invisible.

Students Should Be Aware of the Dangers of Social Media

Social media has become the norm for students in Gen Z, or those born in the early-to-mid 2000s. Because so many of these students have grown up with social media and technology in the palm of their hands, they may not be privy to the dangers of oversharing on social media. Especially with third party websites or social networks, hackers have the ability to gain access to your personal information without you being directly aware. If you have been sharing personal information through direct messages, stories or posts on social media, this information can easily be compromised, putting your student at risk in many respects. At SchoolMart, we are proponents of technology, however, we believe that it is vital that your children understand the risks associated with it so that they can make informed and mature decisions regarding their digital citizenship. 

See How the Ed-Tech Professionals at SchoolMart Can Assist You

As we enter into this new year, it may be time to speak with your children or your students about the importance of data privacy when it comes to the digital realm. Online learning throughout this pandemic, and an increase in social use has led students to adapt to these changing times fairly quickly. However, if they are not keenly aware of how their information may be compromised by hackers or other individuals, they are at risk. To learn more about the benefits of educational technology in the K-12 virtual classroom, click here: https://www.schoolmart.com/contact-us/