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6 Ways Educators Can Protect Themselves from Cyberattacks and Scams

Association of Texas Professional Educators
Association of Texas Professional Educators

Date Posted: 10/27/2021

October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month, and it is time to once again raise awareness of the dangers of cyberthreats, especially in the education sector. Every year, educators find new and innovative ways to introduce technology into the classroom. This rings especially true now that more students attend school from home, but this shift into the virtual landscape has been met with a rise in cybercrimes targeting educators and students alike.

Schools can be easy targets for cyberattacks because their generally older software and equipment often leave them susceptible. Even though children today spend many hours learning to use the latest devices and social media platforms, they likely do not have the necessary cybersecurity awareness to protect their personal information from online attacks. Here are six tips to help safeguard your information and that of your family and your students:

1. Spot Phishing Attacks

These scams typically come in the form of an email asking you to click a link or provide private information about yourself or one of your accounts. They are often masked as a free offer or a communication from a bank or other trusted institution—even ATPE. When opening an email, look for suspicious elements such as misspelled words, an unfamiliar email address from the sender, and the message that your password is about to expire. If you are unsure, always report the message to your school’s IT team, just in case—and don’t click on any links before you’ve confirmed its authenticity.

2. Avoid Ransomware

Ransomware is a growing threat, and cyberattacks in the education sector are on the rise. Several school districts in Texas have been hit with ransomware. This malware is designed to hold an individual’s or organization’s information hostage until a ransom is paid. The personal information of students can be used for fraudulent purposes, a situation that can go unnoticed for a long time because systems are not typically in place to alert parents. Be sure to adhere to any precautionary measures put in place by your IT department regarding backups, password security, clicking suspicious links, etc.

3. Secure Your Virtual Classroom

Like any classroom, virtual environments are vulnerable to intruders and must be secured. To keep students safe from cyberattacks while in class, educators should use the technology and devices provided by their school district to hold meetings and communicate with students. Passwords for streaming services should not be shared anywhere publicly accessible, and waiting rooms/lobbies should be added to virtual meetings to prevent unauthorized individuals from interacting with students.

4. Protect Your Passwords

Passwords have become more and more difficult to protect, in part, because of the sheer number of them educators and students must keep up with. When we create simple, easy-to-remember passwords and reuse them for multiple sites and systems, we increase the risk of cyberattacks against our accounts and personal information. Fortunately, by not sharing passwords with others and by using a password manager app—a tool that generates and stores passwords that are extremely difficult to crack—we can avoid this vulnerability in the classroom. Again, be sure to follow your district’s policy related to any passwords for school systems.

5. Adopt Two-Factor Authentication

Cyberthreats target weak passwords and login credentials to exploit education systems and databases. Two-factor authentication (2FA) is another layer of security that requires the person attempting to access the account or website to verify their identity in more than one way. This usually involves both something you have, such as a phone or a fingerprint, and something you know, such as a password or personal identification number (PIN). With this measure in place, a single compromised factor would not be enough for a successful attack. (Before implementing two-factor authentication, be sure that doing so is compatible with school district policy.)

6. Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN)

Whether public or private, Wi-Fi connections are notoriously enticing targets for cyber-criminals because unsecured networks, both in the classroom and at home, have vulnerabilities that can be exploited. To counter this threat, connect to a VPN to encrypt your internet activity and the data you send and receive online. Ask your district’s IT department if a VPN is available to you if you need to access secure information from home. This will help keep personal information and passwords from being stolen and their accounts from being compromised.

For more information on Cybersecurity Awareness Month and how you can protect personal information in and out of the classroom, visit the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency website.