The importance of cybersecurity in the digital classroom
Transitioning from the traditional classroom to the digital classroom can be a daunting task. However, educators who have made the switch know firsthand the benefits. Video lectures have left them with more class time with which to engage with their students and mobile learning has helped those same students use something ubiquitous in everyday life as a platform for the learning process. However, for those who have made to switch, it is important to address the issue of cybersecurity.
Schools have always taken measures to ensure the safety of their students and faculty, whether it be by employing security guards or requiring staff to receive specific training in child safety. More than anything, the school itself was the biggest safety measure, with students being kept safe inside of it. But as aspects of education are increasingly digital, cybersecurity has become a growing concern for school administrators, teachers and students. It is essential that everyone involved in the educational system be endowed with the basic knowledge of how to protect their digital identities and educational institutions.
The Problem With Cybersecurity
The very nature of the internet makes cybersecurity extremely difficult. The internet was designed to facilitate the flow of information between computers at a time when they were expensive and relatively inaccessible. Fast forward to today where 52.7 percent of all internet access is made up by smartphone users and you begin to see the problem. The internet is less like a house with locked doors and windows and more like a hive, allowing users to come and go and access what they need. Putting in too many restrictions would have an adverse effect on the flow of information. Basically, the internet would be nowhere near as useful.
This freedom to access information is what makes the digital classroom such a powerful educational resource. It’s why teachers are making the switch. They can curate lesson plans from a variety of different sources right at their fingertips. They can give students and parents access to grades and post assignments immediately, which students can then view from a variety of personal devices. But the very nature of the digital classroom also makes it more of a security liability than, say, a small business. The entire pretense behind the digital classroom is that it is always online. When coupled with the practices of mobile learning and BYOD, hackers have more access to the information stored on school servers simply because students do, and it is much harder to regulate and secure these mobile devices.
Also, because most of their IT dollars are allotted to the educational experience, many schools lack the resources to provide adequate cybersecurity.
So how can we tackle these issues without compromising the educational process? Well, the first thing to understand is that good security enables, rather than inhibit. That is, the digital classroom is more prone to a breach in cybersecurity due to the transient nature of information. For this reason, students need to be educated about cybersecurity practices, starting with proper web usage. They need to know how easily accessible their personal information is online. Students should take a look at the privacy settings on websites such as Facebook and Instagram and make sure they secure their information. It may seem basic, but this can go along way to protecting the digital identity of students.
Password security is also something schools should focus on when thinking abut revamping their cybersecurity. As much of an inconvenience it is to go the extra mile, passwords should be changed every month or so, and they should never be repeated. Hackers have a plethora of options when it comes to brute forcing their way through passwords, but longer digit passwords tend to be harder to crack. Schools should also employ multi-factor authentication in the same way companies like Google do, asking users to not only provide an email address and password, but also linking these to a phone number.
In recent years, hackers have become experts at phishing, or the act of embedding malware in emails. One click and your computer or mobile device is infected. If you’re connected to a server or Wi-Fi network, the hackers can crack the code and harvest the sensitive personal information of everyone who was connected. Therefore, it is important that students learn to be responsible digital citizens and look out for suspicious activity.
Another way hackers phish is by embedding malware on popular websites. For this reason, students and faculty need to be aware of these sites so that they can better monitor student behavior online. Teachers need to enforce a balance between exploration and cybersecurity.
In order to enforce this balance, educators need to have some modicum of control over the aspects of the digital classroom. LiveTiles Mosaic, while not a solution for hackers, gives educators a bit more control over the user-based element of security breaches. As the screen shot below illustrates, teachers can preload vetted resources into their digital classroom using snippet tiles, rather than have students scour the web for them, exposing their systems to dangerous malware in the process. On the social media front, while Mosaic is compatible with both Facebook and Twitter, users can also implement a Yammer feed. Yammer is a more secure social media service that restricts access to those with Microsoft email accounts.
By providing an efficient way to manage the digital classroom, Mosaic helps educators tackle the human error portion of cybersecurity. When teachers show students how to protect themselves from the threats they face on the Internet, this safeguards users at the front end of cybersecurity and frees up educational institutions to outsource backend security to the Cloud.
Outsourcing Cybersecurity: The Role of Cloud-based Solutions
Putting all of your valuable data in one place may not seem like the best idea, especially following the recent iCloud hack. However, the perpetrators of that hack gained access due to a failure at the front end, not due to any failure in the actual security of the Cloud.
The cornerstone of Cloud security lies in encryption. All data should be encrypted before reaching the Cloud and double encryption should be the standard for all sensitive date stored on the Cloud. Because encrypting all data can be onerous and impact the user experience, schools should utilize selective encryption. Going a step further, Cloud-based services, such as Microsoft Azure, allow for client side encryption of data. Once the sensitive data is encrypted client side, Azure generates an encrypted key with which to wrap the user’s encrypted data, effectively double encrypting the data until it is called on to be decrypted.
Beyond just providing users with a secure platform to house their data, being a Microsoft service makes Azure highly compatible with the Office 365 tenant. This makes it a natural choice for schools looking to digitize and store their data on the Cloud, as it provides security while optimizing the learning process.
Outsourcing Cybersecurity: Building Ethical Hackers
Another way to bolster cybersecurity is to promote ethical hacking. Today, the word hacking has a negative connotation attached to it. We think hacking and we think of the black hats, the people who exploit oversights in cybersecurity for personal gain. But by encouraging ethical hacking in an educational sense, educators can provide a deeper understanding of computers and their security.
What would ethical hacking look like, and how can teachers turn this into an educational experience? One common example is that teachers can assign students to hack into the school’s database for the purposes of exposing flaws in the school’s security system. This assignment can bolster future efforts to improve cybersecurity. By providing students with a better understanding of the systems they use on a daily basis, we enable them to better protect themselves, which in turn strengthens the cybersecurity of the educational institution.
Furthermore, computer science is our future. The physical aspects of our personal lives are becoming digital at a rapid rate, and schools are starting to see the need for a computer science curriculum. A report by the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education states that by 2018, 50% of high schools in the United States will have some form of rigorous computer science program. The same report also states that by 2018, 25% of states will institute cybersecurity education standards for grades K-12. These future hackers and coders are our best line of defense against the hackers of today. Educating them in cybersecurity and allowing them to engage with computers in more meaningful ways is the best way to level the playing field.
The threat of a cyber attack shouldn’t keep teachers from adopting the digital classroom model. Instead, it should reinforce the need for cybersecurity across all aspects of our digital lives, including the classroom. A digital education is the future, and when armed with the proper knowledge and strategies, students and teachers can help to mitigate cyber threats. And while no platform is ever 100 percent secure from a cyber attack, we cannot let fear of these attacks dictate our lives. Instead, we need to use these threats to inform ourselves about cybersecurity and adapt to the changing digital climate.