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By Susanna Ackermann, Head of Education: Acer Africa

Cyber-security – also known as electronic information security – is described as the practice of defending computers, servers, mobile devices, electronic systems, networks, and data from malicious attacks.

With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequential work-from-home environment we find ourselves in, the threat of these attacks on our cyber -security has become even more profound. Our home information security measures and systems are not necessarily as sophisticated as those in the institutions we usually operate in, leaving us more vulnerable.

Children, in particular, are soft targets. While they may appear to be more instinctively tech-savvy than adults, they still have to be taught how to be responsible digital citizens. This involves knowing how to avoid viruses and other malicious software, how to interact with other users appropriately, how to distinguish reputable sources from misinformation, how not to commit plagiarism, and how to project a positive digital image. This is the job of both parents and teachers to instil in our children, especially as they operate in remote learning environments.

Because more children are now working and interacting online, we need to teach them from early on that Responsible Digital Citizenship 101 involves being polite, avoiding profanity and staying away from cyberbullying. In addition, they need to adopt safer habits when working on personal devices as part of the remote learning experience.

Cyber-security is everyone’s responsibility

No one is exempt from the risk of a cyber-attack. Security risks can just as easily come from school staff. It is important to remind everyone that scams and malware tend to flourish in times of crisis. It’s also vital to establish clear guidelines on which EdTech resources are safe to use and encourage added security practices. Reinforce the understanding with both students and teachers that clicking links and opening attachments from unreliable sources is fraught with risks and that they should be particularly sceptical when being asked for online credentials or other sensitive information. Misinformation is also a common threat, so it is every responsible citizen’s duty to fact check before accepting it as true.

Security is a personal issue

Not all families share the same online security concerns. While some parents are relaxed about their children’s participation in remote learning practices, others might refuse to let their children participate for fear of exposing them to potential threats. It’s important to listen to parents’ concerns and keep them informed about steps being taken to protect their children’s privacy. In general, pre-recorded lessons created by teachers without student intervention tend to be safer than conference calls, even if they do sacrifice the chance to ask questions and exchange immediate feedback, simply because they do not generate footage of minors that may be used for nefarious purposes.

Keep software up to date

Now that some of the burdens of security are carried by teachers as well as the students’ parents, they need to be encouraged to keep abreast of updates concerning their home routers, operating systems, web browsers and apps. Outdated software will inevitably have more security gaps than newer versions. A series of personal devices of varying quality and security constitutes a wider, weaker network than a school system with tight, uniform standards and protocols.

Authenticate always

Where possible, it is preferable to implement multifactor authentication. It may be more inconvenient to use than a single password, but it provides an additional layer of security. The alternative is to make use of critical security technologies like biometrics. The Acer Aspire V 17 Nitro laptop, for example, provides a fingerprint lock. This is one of the quickest, most secure methods of authentication. It is also important to emphasise the use of strong passwords and not to share them with anyone. It is preferable to choose remote learning options that do not require setting up student accounts over video conference systems that force each student to create credentials.

It is widely acknowledged that there is an opportunity in times of crisis. By harnessing our current situation, we have the opportunity to shape students into responsible digital citizens by presenting them with a model of behaviour that will keep them safe in their online ventures for the rest of their lives.