Back-to-school is in full swing and you’re likely still adjusting to a new schedule as you say goodbye to the summer months. Whether you’ve got kiddos in elementary, high school, or you’re a student enrolled in an institution for higher learning, the use of technology such as laptops and tablets, have now become mainstream in the learning process. Perhaps your family is participating in more virtual learning this season, which has its own mix of challenges if you’re new to the world of online learning.
Online safety is one of the top concerns for parents and students engaging in the virtual world, especially as more instances of cyberbullying and phishing appear. Below, we provide a substantive list of recommendations for younger and older students for back-to-school cybersecurity tips. These cybersecurity tips can help ensure that any virtual learner or family is well-equipped with the knowledge to safely navigate the internet and their devices as virtual learning increases.
What is cybersecurity and why does it matter?
The word cybersecurity is a catch-all term used to describe a network of people and services that help protect networks and individual people from digital attacks. These attacks can cause a wide range of harm to the software an individual is working on, they can access personal user information from large corporations, and worse, harm you by compromising your information. Protecting such information from getting into the wrong hands is just one of many reasons why we need to understand cybersecurity, especially when it comes to navigating it with younger populations.
Back-to-school cybersecurity tips for parents and young learners
If you are the parent of a young child engaging in remote learning, first ask yourself if you know which applications are installed on your child’s device. If not, take some time to familiarize yourself with the layout, contents, and types of applications your child is using. Do you have parental controls turned on? Do you have access to all passwords and logins? Having these can help you log in to your child’s device if you’d like to make sure they are visiting safe sites, and to prevent your child from accidentally landing on a page with adult content. Here are a few more recommendations you can keep in mind:
Sit down with your child for a cybersecurity chat. Explaining the importance of safely using the internet, apps, and online resources is imperative. Talk to your child about when it is and is not safe to communicate with others via their device. This can also be a good opportunity to discuss online bullying, how to keep an eye out for it, and how bullying can negatively impact everyone. The more your child knows about how to safely use their device, the more empowered you all are to make good decisions as virtual learners.
Know what apps are on your device. Familiarize yourself with all apps on your child’s device. If you need to download a new app, or they would like to download one themselves, be sure to read about the application features before downloading. This can help you better understand if it’s a trusted app, and it allows you to monitor what’s on their device. This tip also goes for browsers.
Get malware protection and antivirus software. Malware protection is a crucial part of keeping your device safe from viruses and phishing scams. It’s surprisingly easy for children to accidently download bad content, and antivirus software can help raise a red flag on such content. Do your research to find the best protection plan and antivirus software for your family. If your software isn’t already set up to do so, be sure to run virus scans at least once a week.
Update software regularly. It’s easy to continue to snooze updates to tomorrow or to ask for a reminder in a week, but the longer you wait, the more you or your student may be at risk of cyberattack. Software updates help programs run smoothly and can fix bugs you might be experiencing. Ultimately, you want to extend the longevity of your device and updates help make this possible.
Create strong passwords. Even if your child is the sole user of a given device, you want to make sure that you’re varying your passwords to prevent information theft. Be sure to create strong passwords with varied lengths and use of characters, and change them every six months or so.
Back-to-school cybersecurity tips for higher education
For any young adults heading to an institution for higher learning, being able to recognize the signs of untrustworthy content or apps online could be priceless. Not only can cybersecurity tools ensure your information isn’t compromised, it can also save you and your family a lot of money in the event your device gets a virus. Below we offer some useful cybersecurity tips for older virtual learners.
Equip your devices with antivirus and malware software. This kind of software can help you stay on top of your device’s safety and warn you of programs or sites that could put your device at risk. Be sure to run a virus check weekly if your software allows it.
Think before you share. You might feel like this is an obvious piece of advice, but there are plenty of ways to put your information at risk by oversharing. This relates to social media platforms and sites you visit that ask for your personal information. Before sharing, ask yourself: Is this a trusted site? Why would they need my personal information for x and y? If you have any doubt, don’t do it.
Keep an eye out for phishing emails. If you receive an email outside of your institution’s IT department regarding your personal student login or other aspects of your personal information, do not respond. If you don’t recognize the email address, phone numbers, or sender, chances are this is a scam. Today, phishing scams impersonate institutions like the IRS or other large corporations to make you think you’ve either done something wrong or you’re eligible for large sums of money. You should never have to give away your login or password unless you are on a trusted site.
Use multi-factor authentication when possible. Multi-factor authentication is a security system that helps verify your identity by using multiple credentials such as your phone number or another, security questions, or email. Check if your school’s IT department offers this system.
Create strong passwords. Vary your passwords across applications and accounts to keep your information safe. Use special characters when possible and update your passwords every six months.
While managing back-to-school cybersecurity can feel like a daunting task, follow these simple tips to keep you informed and your devices protected throughout the whole year. For more tech and internet blogs, join the conversation on Facebook and Instagram.