- 6 million children experienced cyber threats from 2015-2020.
- Eight K-12 school districts were impacted by serious cyber attacks in the 2022-2023 academic year
- Every 39 seconds, an online attack occurs
Since the pandemic, digital learning has become popular in schools, and with that popularity comes the importance of cybersecurity for students within the classroom.
According to recent research, six million children experienced cyber threats between 2015-2020, and only 28% of parents have software installed to protect their or their children’s online privacy.
Students and parents can take certain precautions as the school year approaches to protect themselves against cyber attacks such as phishing, data breaches and Zoom bombing.
Top online threats for kids
There are many types of online security threats, but here are a few to look out for:
Cyberbullying is a form of bullying that occurs through online avenues, like social media for example. According to Pew Research Center, nearly half (46%) of U.S. teens aged 13-17 have been bullied or harassed online.
2. Cyber predators
Cyber predators can take advantage of children’s presence online to potentially cause them harm in real life.
3. Posting private information
By posting private information online, children may not know that the content they post online is now there forever.
Phishing is a type of cyber attack that hackers use to access users’ personal information and data. Phishing attacks usually come in the form of emails or texts prompting users to download a file or reveal personal information.
Cybercriminals can use sites popular with young people to target them since they are less likely to be wary of such scams.
6. Downloading malware
Children are more likely to accidentally download malicious content from websites they visit. Malware is a type of malicious software that can cause harm to personal devices and give hackers access to personal information.
Online safety tips for students
1. Update your security software
Whether you’re a student in the classroom or a parent monitoring your children’s online learning, make sure the security software on the device is updated regularly. This will prevent viruses and malware from infecting the device.
If you or your child uses a computer provided by the school, these devices likely already have the necessary software installed, but make sure just in case.
2. Keep passwords secure
Strong passwords are extremely important for online safety, especially if you or your child use social media or other applications like that on their personal devices.
Hackers can easily crack passwords if they are not strong enough, so the passwords should be different for different websites, accounts and applications.
3. Use parental control apps
Parental controls are a great tool to prevent children from accessing unsafe websites or applications. They also allow you to limit your child’s screen time, block content and prevent unauthorized spending. While parental controls don’t specifically stop hackers or other malicious online activity, they can provide an extra layer of protection.
Students may also access social media or other applications during class, so parental controls can also help monitor their online activity. Some parental controls for schools allow for the monitoring of web browsing history and social media activity, notifications if students leave the school and blocking harmful applications.
4. Review privacy settings
Make sure to update the privacy settings on personal devices if you or your children use websites or other applications.
Privacy settings can protect your personal information, so it’s important to make sure they’re enabled when you visit them.
5. Make sure all websites are secure
Malicious websites are another thing to look out for if you or your child are active online. These websites can steal personal data and other information by users simply visiting the website or prompting them to download malicious software.
A good rule of thumb for making sure a website is secure is to look at the URL. The URL should begin with “https.” This tells you that your data is encrypted as it passes from your browser to the website’s server.
6. Use a firewall or antivirus software
Download antivirus software or use a firewall to add an extra layer of security to your devices. Antivirus software can prevent malicious software from infecting your computer and a firewall can help protect you against cyber criminals.
Cyber internet attacks on schools
No organization is completely immune to cyber attacks, and schools are no exception. In the 2022-2023 academic year, at least eight K-12 school districts in the U.S. were impacted by serious cyber attacks, in which four attacks left schools forced to cancel classes or close completely.
While any cyber attack is dangerous, attacks on schools can leave children’s personal information at risk, like grades, medical information, behavioral information and financial information. In the case of these documented attacks, information detailing school security systems was also leaked.
Number of school ransomware attacks per year
Types of cyber attacks on schools
Phishing attacks commonly come in the form of text messages or emails that seem to be from legitimate sources. Once you engage with the message, like clicking on the link or file for example, hackers can access your sensitive information.
Cybercriminals can use phishing techniques to target schools, such as mass email campaigns. Students could unwittingly expose themselves and their school to hackers by engaging with phishing messages, so it’s important to know what to look out for:
- Emails or texts with spelling mistakes and bad grammar
- Suspicious looking attachments
- Messages requesting personal information, like passwords, payment information or other sensitive data
- Messages demanding urgent attention or action
- Email address inconsistencies or differences in URLs
Ransomware is a type of malicious software that encrypts data and requires a ransom to unencrypt the data. Emails could be sent to parents or students and demand a certain amount to be paid to access personal data.
In 2020, 57% of the ransomware attacks in August and September involved K-12 schools, so keep your software and operating systems up to date, back up your data regularly and only download from sites you trust.
Between 2016 and 2020, thousands of K-12 students had their personal information compromised in data breaches. Things like grades, social security numbers and bullying reports were all vulnerable during the breaches.
While school IT departments can take measures to protect against data breaches, students can make sure to create strong passwords and be very careful about engaging with suspicious emails.
Zoom bombing is a newer form of cyberattack, but it involves uninvited guests joining private Zoom meetings, like an online class. Zoom bombing can subject classes to verbal altercations, inappropriate displays of images and even sharing students’ personal information.
Those running Zoom meetings can take precautions to prevent Zoom bombing, such as using a meeting exclusive meeting ID instead of a personal meeting ID, employing the waiting room feature so anyone trying to join the meeting is visible and locking the meeting once everyone has joined the meeting.
The bottom line
Students are going to use the internet, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be safe while they do it. If you are active on the internet, whether it’s for school or personal reasons, it’s important to take the necessary precautions to avoid cyberattacks. Make sure your websites are secure, download security software and educate yourself on cyber attack methods so you can stay safe during the school year.
See Allconnect’s research hub for similar articles.
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Written by:Camryn Smith
Camryn Smith is an Associate Writer with Allconnect.com. She specializes in writing about the broadband industry and helping consumers navigate complex internet service purchasing decisions…. Read more
Edited by:Robin Layton
Editor, Broadband Content
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