Teacher’s Guide to Cybersecurity – Everything You Need to Know in 2019
The days of handwritten homework assignments, heavy printed textbooks, and mailed paper report cards are slipping away. Learning is digital in the 21st century. Students often complete their homework, communicate with classmates, check their grades, and conduct research for assignments online.
The internet speeds up students’ ability to study and instantly connects them with more information than a printed school library could possibly hold. However, the cyber world of modern education can be dangerous, both to your students and to you as a teacher.
Your Risks as a Teacher
Your students are more tech-savvy than you can possibly imagine. While many adults rely on the occasional tutorial to learn how to use a new program or application, students are digital natives. They intuitively know how to use apps, mobile devices, and online platforms, since they’ve been using them their whole lives.
This means that, with the right motivation, your students could probably figure out how to hack into your accounts. For example, if a student wasn’t satisfied with her grade, she might be able to figure out your password and change a grade or two. Similarly, a student who wanted to play a joke on you could change all the images in your PowerPoint presentation.
You need to know how to protect both yourself and your students from cyber attacks.
Cyber Safety for Students
In some cases, students might be the culprits of cybersecurity issues in your classroom, but in others, they might be the victims.
While many young people are able to easily learn digital programs and might even have some hacking skills, they still have a lot to learn about the world. They may not be savvy enough to spot every cybersecurity risk that they encounter.
As a teacher, you can both directly protect your students and teach them about cybersecurity so they can better safeguard themselves online.
Protecting Your Classroom
Cybersecurity threats can be alarming, but fortunately, there is a simple solution to help keep you and your students safe: education! After all, knowledge is power.
By educating yourself and your students about cybersecurity, the latest applications, and other features of modern technology, you can spot and resolve digital safety issues before they put your classroom in danger.
How Students Put You in Danger
Even if they don’t mean to, your students could put you, your school, and their fellow students at risk with their digital habits. In this section, we’ll describe these hazards and explain how you can avoid them.
Integrating the Internet Into Your Classroom
As we discussed above, your students are often more tech-savvy than you. They probably know how to use every feature of the most popular online programs and digital devices. This could give them an enormous advantage over you if they wanted to hack into your accounts.
Your first instinct might be to completely ban digital devices in your classroom. However, this isn’t likely to work. According to the Pew Research Center, as of 2018, “95% of teens have access to a smartphone, and 45% say they are online ‘almost constantly.’”
This means that your ability to actually eliminate cell phone, tablet, or laptop use during class is very limited. Fighting digital devices in the classroom will most likely be futile and frustrating. Instead, make your students’ time online a productive part of class by integrating your students’ devices into your lessons (for more information on this, see our lesson plans).
Who’s Using Your User Accounts?
As a teacher, you probably have numerous online accounts. As well as your personal email and social media accounts, you also have multiple school and education software accounts.
Now, imagine if your students had access to all the information stored on those accounts. They could read your personal emails, change their online homework assignments and grades, look at other students’ reports, publish fake updates to your social media profiles, or hack you in many other ways.
Hacking into your accounts probably isn’t very challenging for your students. To make matters worse, many schools also don’t have great cybersecurity systems in place to help you protect your accounts.
To protect your important information from potential student hackers, it’s crucial that you understand how to protect and secure your accounts.
Below, we provide our suggestions for keeping your user accounts secure. This advice applies to your online teacher portals, personal accounts, emails, and social media platforms. We recommend that you:
Use your school email address to create education-related accounts. This will help keep your personal email address separate from accounts students may have access to.
Create complex passwords. Your passwords should be a mixture of upper- and lowercase letters, and include numbers and symbols. These types of passwords are more difficult to guess.
Change your passwords frequently. Experts advise switching your passwords every six months, but since that’s already most of the school year, we recommend changing your passwords every three months.
Use a different password for each unique account. For example, the password you use for your teacher portal shouldn’t be the same as the one you use for your personal Facebook. This means that if someone guesses or hacks one password, they won’t be able to access all of your accounts.
Check to see if your password is strong enough using a password meter, like ours. These tools calculate how difficult or easy it would be to guess or hack your password.
Use a password manager to generate and store your passwords on your device or browser. A password manager uses a special database to create and store strong passwords so you don’t have to remember them.
Use biometric passwords such as fingerprint access when available. These are very secure as only you can use them.
Take advantage of strong authentication or two-factor verification when it’s available. These systems typically require you to enter both your password and a special code sent to your phone or email. Strong authentication offers the best protection for sensitive accounts like your email address or bank account. Many services offer strong authentication on an opt-in basis. Ask your service provider for help if you’re not sure how to get started.
This should help keep your accounts safe from students and other potential hackers.
Making Mobile More Secure
You probably rely on your smartphone to stay in touch with friends, check your email, and post to social media. You may even use a mobile device to assign and grade homework or conduct research for your class.
Smartphones are incredibly convenient and useful, but they’re also very vulnerable to student hacking.
Your smartphone may be expensive, but the data stored on it is even more valuable. Photos, social media accounts, personal messages, bank accounts, and all sorts of other private information are stored on smartphones.
If you don’t take proper precautions, a student, fellow faculty member, or stranger could access any of the sensitive data on your smartphone or tablet. There are four ways you can protect your mobile devices from potential hackers:
Keep your devices updated. Hackers work to find flaws in technology companies’ security systems, and they’re almost as fast as the companies trying to stop them with updated software. No system is 100% secure, but updating your software is one of the most important ways to protect your phone. We recommend that you turn on auto-update features for all apps and devices
Use biometric passwords. As mentioned above, biometric passwords are one of the most secure login options for your digital devices. Keep your smartphone and tablet safe by setting up fingerprint passwords where possible. Minimally, use a traditional password for your mobile device.
Disable wi-fi and Bluetooth as often as possible. They’re great when you’re actually using your device. However, when you’re offline, leaving wi-fi and Bluetooth on lets hackers know that you’re there. We recommend disabling your wi-fi and Bluetooth when you’re not using your device. This will limit your visibility to nearby devices.
Customize your encryption settings. The factory settings for your device and its various apps may not be ideal for cybersecurity. If your device is not encrypted by default, turn encryption on. You should also adjust your privacy settings to limit different applications’ access to your data.
These safety measures can help keep your mobile devices safe from students. They can also protect you from other potential hackers anywhere else you take your smartphone or tablet.
Maintaining Personal Privacy and a Stellar Online Reputation
You probably don’t discuss your romantic relationships, political opinions, or favorite celebrities with your students. However, if you don’t properly safeguard your social media accounts, your pupils could easily access all of that information.
Most teachers would rather keep their social media accounts and personal lives private from students, and for good reason. According to an article in Inc. magazine, “privacy matters more to Generation Z. They are very careful and intentional about managing their online reputation.” Since students are concerned with their own reputations online, they’re also very aware of yours.
As their teacher, you need to be careful about what your students can find out about you online. If they know about your recent breakup, see pictures of you at a concert, or learn what you think about a controversial issue online, they might feel less comfortable in your classroom or question your authority. It’s important that you remain a trusted, respected figure in their lives.
Many teachers are tempted to delete all their online information, but that’s not necessary. After all, you should still be able to use the internet to connect with your friends, express yourself, post photos, and more.
To keep your personal information safe from your students (and anyone else you may not trust), you need to cleverly conceal your online presence.
Our experts recommend that you take the following steps to safeguard your online reputation:
Google yourself. If you can find it on a search engine, your students can too. Googling yourself will reveal almost any personal information that is publicly available. Once you know what data about yourself is online, you can find its source and delete anything you wouldn’t want your students (or anyone else) to see.
Adjust your privacy settings. Many accounts are set up with minimal privacy as the default. If you want to keep your personal data away from students, make sure your posts, tweets, and other social accounts are private and visible to only your friends or followers. This way, your students won’t be able to easily find this information.
Delete and/or deactivate accounts you aren’t using. If you have an old social media account you’re no longer using, you should delete or deactivate it. This will prevent imposters hijacking the account and posting as you. If you want to keep your old accounts, make sure you set them to private.
These guidelines will help you enjoy the benefits of social media while protecting your online reputation.
Is Your School Network Safe?
Your school network is probably the primary way you and your students access the internet. It can also be a good way to block certain unsafe or inappropriate sites and improve your school’s cybersecurity. Unfortunately, it could also be vulnerable to breaches, which could put you and your students at risk.
There are many ways students can bypass the network and access blocked sites. As our article on this topic points out, students can use a VPN, proxy, or portable browser to get around the school network. These tools could allow them to unblock websites and load inappropriate online content while they’re in your classroom. This could be dangerous and disruptive.
Now that you’re aware of how students can get around school network blocks, you can work with technology professionals to prevent them from doing so. You can also be on the lookout for unsuitable online content students might bring into your classroom.
Furthermore, if your school network isn’t password-protected, this could make it even more unsafe. Hackers lurk on public wi-fi looking for users’ personal data and trying to take control of their devices. This could leave you, your students, and school administrators susceptible to malicious attacks.
In fact, in September 2018, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) issued a PSA warning about the increasing cybersecurity risks faced by schools. The FBI stated that the widespread collection of sensitive information in schools “could present unique exploitation opportunities for criminals” and could result in “social engineering, bullying, tracking, identity theft, or other means of targeting children.”
Clearly, both you and your students face cybersecurity risks if your school network is unsecured. If your school network is open, you can work with administrators and IT professionals to make it more secure.
We recommend adding a password to your school’s wi-fi and changing it every three months. It may also be useful for the school to hire a cybersecurity professional to help set up more advanced anti-hacking systems.
The Hazards of Cyberbullying
According to the non-profit Kids Health, “cyberbullying is the use of technology to harass, threaten, embarrass, or target another person.”
The organization explains that “sometimes cyberbullying can be easy to spot” as in the case of “a text, tweet, or response to a status update on Facebook that is harsh, mean, or cruel.” However, Kids Health points out that “other acts are less obvious, like impersonating a victim online or posting personal information, photos, or videos designed to embarrass another person.”
Unfortunately, cyberbullying is epidemic in many schools. A September 2018 survey by the Pew Research Center found that 59% of US teens have been bullied or harassed online. The study found that 90% of teens believe online harassment is a problem that affects people their age.
The same survey found that “majorities of young people think key groups, such as teachers, social media companies and politicians are failing at tackling this issue.”
As you might assume, cyberbullying can have a devastating long-term impact on children and adolescents. Like other forms of bullying, it can lead to real-world consequences that affect a victim’s whole life. Kids may experience depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem as a result.
They may also want to avoid school, affecting your ability to teach them the skills they need to succeed in the adult world.
As a teacher, you may be an adult onlooker when it comes to cyberbullying. It can be tricky to identify bullying and to understand the best way to intervene when it’s happening on an online platform, forum, or private messaging service that’s inaccessible to you. However, since you need to protect your students from its upsetting effects, it’s vital to know how to spot it in your classroom.
The Vocabulary of Cyberbullying
If you want to safeguard against bullying in your classroom, there are a few terms you should become familiar with. These include:
Trolling: intentionally posting provocative and insulting messages about sensitive subjects, such as racist and sexist material, in order to elicit a response. Merriam-Webster defines the verb “troll” as “to antagonize (others) online by deliberately posting inflammatory, irrelevant, or offensive comments or other disruptive content.”
Flaming: sending provocative messages to incite an argument. According to Lifewire, “flaming is about hurling insults, transmitting bigotry, name-calling, or any outright verbal hostility directed at a specific person.”
Harassment: specifically targeting an individual or group with persistent actions meant to make the receiver(s) frightened or upset. Harassment can develop into cyberstalking.
Cyberstalking: according to the Cyberbullying Research Center, “cyberstalking involves the use of technology (most often, the internet!) to make someone else afraid or concerned about their safety…Cyberstalking behaviors may include tracking down someone’s personal and private information and using it to make them afraid, texting them hundreds of times a day to let them know you are watching them, ‘creeping’ on their social media accounts to learn where they are so you can show up uninvited, or posting about them incessantly and without their permission.” Cyberstalking is against the law in many places.
Catfishing: stealing someone’s online profile or setting up fake profiles to lure others into starting online relationships. This form of cyberbullying can also be used to spy on, shame, or manipulate children, teens, and even adults.
Fraping: impersonating someone or logging in to their profile to post inappropriate content. This is a serious offense and, according to Business Insider, “is now a crime that could get you 10 years in prison, in Ireland.”
Griefing: abusing and angering people via online gaming. According to Oxford Dictionaries, a “griefer” is “a person who harasses or deliberately provokes other players or members [of an online game or community] in order to spoil their enjoyment.”
Outing: publicly sharing someone else’s personal, private, or embarrassing information, photos, or videos. This can be very damaging, especially amongst children and adolescents, who may not react compassionately.
Roasting: when an individual or, usually, a group, gangs up on an individual online until the victim “cracks.” The Bark Blog explains that “roasting is a term from comedy where a comedian roasts another person with good humor” but it becomes problematic when done “without the consent or desire of the individual to be roasted.” Although it “can start out innocuous and light-hearted…that is not where it always ends.”
If you notice your students discussing these types of activities in relation to themselves or their classmates, you should pay attention. Discussing cyberbullying with your pupils could help you save them from its hazards.
How to Tell if a Student is Being Cyberbullied
Even if you don’t hear your students talk about cyberbullying, you may be able to spot a student who is suffering from these types of online attacks. Children and teenagers who are cyberbullied often exhibit signs of general bullying or distress.
A student may have been cyberbullied if he or she:
Appears more lonely or isolated. Cyberbullied children may withdraw from their friends or feel as if they can’t trust anyone.
Unexpectedly or suddenly changes his or her friendship group. Sometimes, students’ own friends are the culprits of cyberbullying. In these cases, the student may no longer want to spend time with the friends who have bullied him or her.
Suffers from seemingly sudden changes in personality. This could include becoming withdrawn, anxious, sad, or angry.
Cries frequently, unusually, or in seemingly strange circumstances. A student may become upset in apparently odd circumstances when dealing with the consequences of cyberbullying. This could occur when other students mock the victim or remind him or her of what happened online.
Is getting worse grades. Cyberbullied students’ academic performance may decline due to feeling upset, being scared, or being unable to focus.
Seems distracted or lacks focus in the classroom. Students who have dealt with cyberbullying may be worrying about their fear or embarrassment instead of thinking about their schoolwork.
Misses school frequently. Students whose classmates have cyberbullied them may want to avoid school so they don’t have to deal with their attackers.
Loses interest in extracurricular activities. Cyberbullied children and teens may want to quit their athletics teams, dance programs, theater productions, or other activities to get away from their attackers. They might also be less interested in extracurricular activities because they feel ashamed, shy, or afraid to get hurt again.
Suffers from an increasingly negative self-perception. Children and teens who are victims of cyberbullying often feel less confident as a result, since they may believe the negative things their attackers say about them.
Isn’t doing as well physically. The emotional and mental stress of cyberbullying may cause victims’ physical health to worsen.
If these descriptions sound like one or more of your students, you should have a conversation with them about cyberbullying. The earlier you can intervene and stop this harmful behavior, the better.
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