The weather has turned a little cooler, the leaves are starting to change, and the big yellow buses are back on the roads, holding up traffic and disrupting your morning commute. Yes, back-to-school is here, and while most of the kids are lamenting the return of homework and pop quizzes, security experts are warming up their warnings about cybercrime, particularly crimes aimed at students and schools.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, about one in five victims of identity theft are in the 20s, many of them college students. However, even younger children are at risk for identity theft, as about one in 40 U.S. households reported that their childâ€™s identity â€” usually via their Social Security number â€” had been stolen. However, not just young people are at risk. Schools themselves are targets for hacking and cybercrime, as well. In some cases, the perpetrators are actually students, who break into school computer systems to change grades, steal tests, or generally wreak havoc with their teachers and the school. Students may also try to hack into other students accounts to cause trouble. There have been hundreds of reports of teens breaking into other teensâ€™ social media accounts and posting embarrassing and offensive content in someone elseâ€™s name.
Other hacks are arguably even more nefarious: Criminals may try to break into school databases to steal student identities. After all, schools often store reams of protected data, including names, addresses, and phone numbers, along with dates of birth, Social Security numbers, health information, and parental information. Often, these hackers gain access to the school database via the students themselves â€” and for that reason parents, teachers, and administrators need to take steps to protect this vulnerable population.
Also read : 5 tips for staying safe on the Internet
Acceptable Use and Parental Involvement
Many school systems are attempting to combat the issue of hacking by using many of the same methods as corporations to deter hacking. While school systems are bound to protect student data with safeguards similar to those used to secure health and financial information, private companies that collect and store student data, such as testing companies or yearbook publishers, are not. That could change, though, with pending legislation that will change the security parameters for student data stored in the cloud. In the wake of the recent leak of compromising photos of high-profile celebrities, some senators warn that the incident portends more security breaches in the future â€” and that students are a prime target.
As a result, school systems are taking steps to protect their networks. Some of the steps they are taking include:
- Separating student and administrative networks to protect both students and teachers.
- Enforcing acceptable use policies that restrict the sites that both students and administrators can access, blocking both inappropriate material and sites known to contain harmful downloads.
- Requiring log-ins for anyone who wishes to access the network. Some districts are even moving toward two-factor authentication to prevent unauthorized access to networks.
- Enacting stiff penalties for anyone found violating the acceptable use policy or accessing the network inappropriately.
While schools have a responsibility to protect their networks, there is always the wild card factor of students using their own computers to access school resources. In some districts, students are supplied with laptops for school use; these computers tend to be safer than student-owned machines, as they generally do not have administrator privileges and strong antivirus protection.
Student-owned computers, on the other hand, may not always have adequate protections. For example, despite the fact that evidence shows that antivirus for Mac is necessary, many Mac users still neglect to install the software. Students using their own machines also tend to have full administrator privileges, and may not always install updates or patches that help prevent malware infection in a timely manner. As a result, when these students access school networks for any reason, they create a potential vulnerability that could cause a breach.
Obviously, banning student computers from campus isnâ€™t a viable solution â€” the Internet has become a vital part of instruction in recent years â€” but the proliferation of devices with varying levels of security means that itâ€™s more important than ever for schools to place a priority on network security. This includes maintaining the best practices mentioned previously, but also strengthening firewalls and establishing strict protocols for security on student-owned devices. If the devices do not meet the parameters, they should have limited or restricted access to the school network.
With the risk of cybercrime targeting students so great, itâ€™s important for schools, students, and parents to work together to protect the sensitive and valuable data. When there is little likelihood of personal details falling into the wrong hands, everyone can get back to focusing on the important things â€” like pop quizzes.