Another summer has quickly come and gone, and it’s back-to-school time. Whether students are doing homework, messaging friends on social media, or doing online research, their digital lives will grow, and it is important that they learn to take control of their digital footprint and secure their personal information.
These days, everyone is more connected and has easier access to information than at any other time in history. Good cyber hygiene is essential to protecting students’ personal data, preserving their privacy, and ensuring a rewarding school year for everyone.
Share these valuable tips with students to help keep them safe online:
- Use a complex passphrase. Every account needs a password and using a hard-to-guess passphrase instead is one of the easiest and most effective tactics to keep information secure. Avoid using information that could be easily found online, such as birthdays or your pet’s name. Think of a phrase, and then use the first letters of each word to create a complex password that is memorable. For example, the phrase "My jersey number when I played junior varsity soccer freshman year was 27!" makes the password “Mj#wIpjvsfyw27!” easy to remember.
- Enable MFA whenever possible. Multi-factor authentication (MFA) requires two or more unique factors to verify a user's identity. This technology validates that the user is the expected account holder or device owner and provides an extra layer of protection against unauthorized access.
- Recognize the signs of phishing. Phishing emails and SMS text messages (or smishing) attempts have become increasingly sophisticated, tricking users into giving away personal information. Users can hover their mouse over a link in an email to show the URL, allowing users to make sure the destination is a trusted, secure site before they click. Be suspicious of any messages that contain spelling errors, unexpected finance-related messages, or any message conveying a sense of urgency with a threat for inaction.
- Keep all devices up to date with current software, operating systems, and applications. Carefully review device settings. Enable automatic updates wherever possible. Download software patches as soon as possible to avoid vulnerabilities that could be exploited by bad actors.
- Back up your data regularly. Back up important documents to cloud storage or an external hard drive. If your device is lost, stolen or destroyed, you will still have access to your valuable information.
Teachers and educators can make a huge difference in creating a positive online experience for kids and students. Here are some ways teachers can help keep students cyber safe:
- Be aware of social media use. Most social networks require users to be at least 13 years old, but children may be allowed to sign up without a parent or guardian’s permission. Encourage students to change settings to the highest level of privacy possible, especially for younger users, and urge them to only accept friend requests from known and verified people.
- Recognize the signs of cyberbullying and encourage victims to seek help. Most cyberbullying starts on social media. If you suspect a student is being harassed online, encourage them to seek out trusted resources, such as a guidance counselor.
- Teach students appropriate online behavior. Just like in the real world, everyone should treat each other with kindness and respect, and digital spaces are no exception. Talk to students early and often about appropriate behavior online, including the dangers of chatting with strangers online. Remind them that whatever is posted to the internet is there forever, so encourage students to think before they post photos or other content to social media.
- Get involved in your school district’s planning and policies. Attend a meeting and gather information on the district’s cybersecurity policies. Are they teaching awareness? Is there sufficient funding to keep students’ data safe? Can you share resources or training to improve their cyber awareness?
- Familiarize yourself with videoconferencing best practices. When remote learning, be sure to keep all remote access/meeting applications up to date. Instructors should require passwords to access the session. Never share host passwords or meeting codes to remote learning sessions. While in a remote learning session, avoid sharing private information in the call chat. Close any unnecessary software prior to session in case you need to share your screen.
- Know what tools and platforms students are using. Conversations about cyber hygiene and safety will be more convincing if you understand the technology your student uses. Familiarize yourself with the equipment and applications used by the school so you have a better understanding of how to use them and can instruct students with confidence. Have at least an awareness of the latest apps that students are using in their personal lives so you can speak to them and recommend best safety practices.
For more information and cybersecurity tips, including resources specifically for keeping kids safe online, visit the ITS Cybersecurity webpage.