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Surge in Online Learning Opens Schools to Cyber Trouble

Monday, September 21, 2020  

With educators in the age of COVID increasingly relying on virtual learning, cyber-criminals are turning more and more digital door handles to see how many schools have been left open for them to plunder.

 

In a recent USA Today article, experts warned that cyber-attacks will likely get worse as schools across the U.S. switch to online learning, courtesy (or discourtesy) of the coronavirus pandemic.

 

Kutub Thakur, director of the Cyber Defense and Security Program at New Jersey City University, told the newspaper that Zoom-bombing, cyberbullying and phishing have “increased astronomically. Everybody needs to be really mindful about security right now. Because everything is online, hackers are more active,” he warned. “They target school systems… and they really don’t have any boundaries.”

 

“If you have a public meeting where a password and link can be shared,” added Jaideep Vaidya, the director of Rutgers Institute for Data Science, Learning and Analytics, “that can cause problems. People can log in from different accounts.” Schools, he advised, need to continuously update software applications and use security features that control when people get admitted to online learning sessions, who gets admitted and what they are allowed to do. Make meetings private, open them to invited participants only, and have students log in with unique IDs and passwords.

 

On a school-wide level, Thakur emphasized, administrators should ensure that anti-virus software and firewalls are up to date, and that data files are always backed up to protect against malware and ransomware attacks.

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