Our young people are always learning. It’s a great time to expand their cyber education to help keep them safe in the classroom.
The school bell rings, kids of all ages take their seats, and there’s an atmosphere of anticipation. Students open their textbooks and laptops, ready to explore language, history, science, and math, and further expand their horizons. Yet, unbeknownst to many, there are people lurking behind the screens in the academic world, actors whose intentions are not at all noble.
Previous posts in our back-to-school series have covered how to protect your child’s devices and explain the importance of cybersecurity in school. Today we talk about the core, and often unavoidable, apps used in modern education. This means electronic diaries and virtual classrooms, plus videoconferencing for distance learning. They are all insecure.
Electronic study-diaries and virtual classroom websites are used these days to help administer the educational process. Educators use them to share lesson schedules, homework assignments, and announcements. And parents can see their kids’ grades, or even chat with their teachers.
The main problem with such web applications is the substandard protection of personal data that’s provided. In 2020, the attorney general of the U.S. state of New Mexico even filed a lawsuit against Google Classroom, citing the company’s alleged practice of collecting personal data from children and using it for commercial purposes. And in 2022, the Dutch Ministry of Education introduced a number of restrictions on the use of Google services in schools for the exact same reason.
Unfortunately, in most cases parents have no control over what services schools decide to use. The story of Google Classroom is by no means the worst. Issues with the service have been openly discussed for a long time, and Google has been forced to take note and beef up its protection. But, as a father of three, I’ve had the (mis)fortune of seeing other electronic diaries in action, where the situation with personal data storage and transfer is nothing if not murky.
What can parents do about this? Asking the school for all details about privacy and personal data usage in all services you need is a good start. And teach your kid how to leave as little personal data as possible on such sites.
The covid lockdown was a big eye-opener for many kids: turns out you don’t need to go to school! Lessons suddenly became more fun but for the wrong reasons: my daughter chats with her teacher in one window — and watches a movie or plays a game in another (or on a different device).
Such distance “learning” only adds to the worries of parents. Even before covid, we had to monitor what our kids were downloading, since banking Trojans, spyware and ransomware are forever sneaking in under the guise of legal apps — even in Google Play and other official stores. But at least in school they were less exposed to such threats, because internet usage was not generally a part of in-class learning.
With the distance-learning revolution, however, there are now even more apps on our kids’ tablets for us parents to fret about, as well as unlimited internet use for “study” purposes.
And although the lockdowns are long over, many schools continue to practice distance learning for some classes. Meanwhile, Zoom, Teams, and other videoconferencing platforms remain vulnerable to attacks. The most obvious consequence of such attacks, as before, is personal data leakage. But it can get worse: if a malicious third party were to gain access to a virtual classroom, they might show some decidedly “non-kid-suitable” videos.
And even if parents are versed in the safe hosting of video chats, they are unlikely to be able to influence the school’s choice of tools. Here, too, you should ask the school for an explanation as to why an insecure program was chosen.
In addition, you need to teach your kids the basic safety rules of using such apps. In particular, your child should learn to turn off both the microphone and camera when not required, as well as to blur the background and disable screen-sharing by default. And of course, your child should never accept video chat invitations from strangers — or communicate with any if they do show up uninvited to a video conference.
And it goes without saying that all devices your child uses should be protected with a reliable security solution — one that guards against viruses and personal data leaks on computers and mobile devices, and keeps your kid’s privacy intact. Remember that with your free annual subscription to Kaspersky Safe Kids as part of Kaspersky Premium, in addition to total protection for all devices, you get powerful parental controls over your child’s online activity and offline location.