Back to school cybersecurity: hints, tips, and links for a safer school year
It’s that time of year again when parents are slowly gearing up for a new school term. Some schools have a strict policy of only using their own pre-approved lab devices, while others allow students to bring their own devices. Whatever the plan, it’s never too early to start thinking about some of the potential dangers.
Following the herd
When new schoolmates collide, there’s always a mad dash to join the collective and sign up to a bunch of popular websites. I’m sure many parents are intimately familiar with the “I want to set up a YouTube channel because my friend has one” request, followed closely by your own concerns about connected accounts, public-facing settings, and whether or not little Jimmy has uploaded 30 minutes of dabbing in front of the underwear dryer.
Spend some time going over privacy basics, like avoiding recording anything too identifiable. Don’t leave letters lying around in shots with home addresses on them or upload footage of yourself standing outside your house across the street from well-known public locations.
Digital devices are great, but there’s no harm in admitting they can be a problematic time sink at the worst possible moments. It isn’t just schools in Australia, but schools in the UK, too, who’ve started sending out letters about the incredibly popular game Fortnite. Those letters contain everything from advice on limiting digital playtime via game console parental controls to password security basics due to scammers being quite happy to pilfer accounts, if given the chance. Almost every digital device I can think of can have some form of time restriction applied to it if need be, and parents should definitely read up on the subject.
A little vanity searching never hurt anyone
It’s not just enough that your kids avoid posting personally identifiable information online, either on their own accounts or school issued pages; they should also occasionally see what others might be saying, too. If a bully is able to work out your address at school and decides to post it online, you’d never know about it. Smart searching can save the day, and help to get the offending information taken down. This may be something you choose to do yourself rather than burden the child with additional responsibilities.
Security can be fun
You don’t need to wait until school time to give your kids some security tips. In fact, it might be more advantageous for them to head into their new term with some decent computing knowledge, and it’ll certainly impress teachers at the same time. We’ve written a lot about engaging children with infosec, and our post on this very subject will be useful whether you’re a parent, educator, or both.
Kids and the written word
There’s a lot of advice guides out there for parents, and though the books may not be specific to schooling, many of the tips within remain valid. Consider choosing a few titles on the subject of digital literacy, citizenship, or cybersecurity, and brush up your own knowledge on the latest issues affecting kids in cyberspace. Online popularity, social media, and (especially) anything to do with gaming should be your first port of call where learning is concerned…they’re all magnets for children and any associated problem points.
Networks and nopeworks
If the school devices are of the fixed, pre-approved types that never leave the classroom, tell your children not to save anything particularly personal to them, outside of whatever schoolwork is required. You don’t want a batch of their selfies or bad emo poetry (we’ve all done it) being stored on some obscure portion of the school network. Even if devices can be brought home, there’s a good chance they may have some sort of monitoring and/or logging functionality onboard, so it pays to be cautious and avoid potential trouble further down the line.
The same goes for student-initiated installs on the device. Whether the school has a liberal install policy or the devices are totally on lockdown, it’s probably a good idea to always ask whoever is responsible for IT before installing something. The school may have its own internal portal where safe, approved apps live. Randomly grabbing downloads from Google Play, or turning off the “no installs from unknown sources” option could give everybody involved a massive headache.
It isn’t just the school that wants to keep an eye on your children’s computer use; this may be something you want to do as well. If that’s the case, we’ve written about how you can approach the potentially tricky subject of monitoring with your kids. Remind them: with great power (unfettered access to the Internet) comes great responsibility.
School social networks
Many schools have their own social portals for their students, and they act in a similar way to more well-known services. If your child is on one of these portals, make sure they’re using a strong, unique password, and understand the security/privacy settings of the network. As above, they should avoid posting anything too identifiable, and should refrain from cyberbullying their classmates.
On a similar note, some schools will issue devices to students and leave much of the security in the hands of the laptop recipient. If that’s the case, we’ve got you covered with some schooltime 101 security lockdown tips.
Acceptable use policies
A school network without one of these would be a rare thing, so you may wish to request a copy of the AUP and see exactly what can, or can’t, be done while using the net on school time. If your child has a habit of, er, breaking the rules, then it might be an idea to talk over any of the most important points. Nobody wants to get kicked out of school for (what the child might think) is the silliest rule.
Ring the bell!
With our quickfire list of tips and links, both you and yours should be ready to roll when term time comes around. Going back to school can be a grind for older kids, and incredibly daunting for younger ones. Throw some technology into the mix and anything can happen, so it’s good to know a wealth of online resources exist for those willing to get their feet wet.
Unfortunately, we can’t tell you which sofa the school uniform is stuffed down, but we’re right here for all your computing-related needs. Wishing you all a productive and safe return to school!
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