As the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact communities across the nation, the back-to-school season looks a bit different this year.
Rather than smiling faces and laughter filling the halls of America’s schools, many educational institutions have moved to a virtual or hybrid learning environment.
While there are a host of debates surrounding this method of instruction, there’s one issue that most parents, like me, agree on – protecting our children’s sensitive information and data while they participate in these online learning environments.
As the father of two school-aged children, and as the CEO and Founder of a cybersecurity firm, I have seen firsthand the unfortunate reality these calls for protecting our children’s personal data are met with.
The fact is, before the COVID-19 pandemic reached U.S. soil, IT departments for most schools and their respective districts were already underfunded and overloaded with responsibility.
The truth is, before the virus, IT departments were able to control the environment, the people, and the devices that accessed their networks. Now in the space of a few months, school personnel are working, and students are learning, all from their homes. All of this while many use their home devices, and IT officials are charged with figuring out how to allow personal devices to access school networks securely.
Even more concerning, many IT departments are limited to just one staff person responsible for the entire school or district’s cybersecurity. In many cases, the person charged with carrying out cybersecurity best practices for the school or district often doubles as a science or social studies teacher.
Fortunately, the good news is that the kids are not in and of themselves a target. The school and the parents are where the money is. But, don’t mistake that for meaning cybercriminals won’t target students in an effort to get to their parents and the schools they’re attending.
These barriers and threats make it more important than ever for parents to consider their student’s cybersecurity while learning online. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be complicated, and simple steps can be taken to protect your child while they’re learning online.
you should employ the use of a virtual private network (VPN)
This is a simple tool to use, and a host of services can be found online. This tool protects your data and establishes a secure connection between your computer and the school’s network. By using a VPN, it is much more difficult for a hacker to access your personal device, the school’s network, and to intercept your personal information.
Second, it is imperative that you enroll in identity theft protection
Not only should you enroll in identity theft protection for yourself but you should also sign your child up as well.
Although a child won’t have a legitimate credit report until they have some sort of credit history, it’s good practice to monitor their credit for anyone attempting to steal their identity.
Credit bureaus can freeze credit reports so criminals can’t open up accounts in their name and can provide you real-time monitoring so you’re up to date on the latest surrounding your child’s credit report.
Third, use a proactive antivirus software
Sure, this might sound a bit facetious, but it really is very important. Antivirus software is your last line of defense against cybercriminals and can prevent malicious software from being installed on your child’s device. These sorts of software can protect students from data logging and can even protect them from threats like ransomware.
Fourth, create an individualized login for your child to use when sharing a computer
While it is tempting and convenient to allow your child to use the same username and password as you, it’s really important that you don’t do that. By setting up their own username and password, this protects your information from cybercriminals should they gain access to the device and further limits the damage they can do.
Fifth, change your router password off the default password
While they frequently seem long and complicated, these passwords aren’t unique to you. Leaving your password set to the default password provided opens your device up to hackers.
To change your wireless router’s password, contact your service provider and ask them to walk you through the steps of changing your router’s password.
Lastly, turn off devices when you’re not using them
It sounds tedious, but by doing so, you disconnect the device completely from the internet. This completely eliminates your risk of falling victim to a cyberattack during this period of time.
COVID-19 has changed the world as we know it. Online learning, while it’s been around for quite some time, is a new undertaking for many of us. And although there are cybersecurity risks associated, by taking the steps outlined above, we can keep our kids safe while they’re learning online.
Rob Cheng is the CEO and Founder of PC Matic.