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3 security practices educators should consider adopting

Now is the time to refresh your approach to cybersecurity.

BY FRED KING | APR 05 2021

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, much of the conversation around security in postsecondary institutions was focused on physical safety. Virtual security was often an invisible afterthought for educators and dealt with by IT administrators focused on protecting the campus’s network and the devices that connect to it.

With the transition to remote learning, all of that has shifted. The campus is also no longer the central hub and devices are spread across the homes of students, teachers and administrators – meaning universities have less control over these personal networks, and less in-person oversight into websites and applications being accessed.

As we round out a challenging school year, here are three security practices educators should consider adopting (or revisiting) in the semester ahead.

Contain your app sprawl

The transition to remote learning has naturally led to experimentation in the classroom with many educators embracing collaboration tools and online applications to keep students connected and engaged. This has also led to an unfortunate side effect: app sprawl.

Getting the number of separate logins under control is one step you can take to streamline classroom security and reduce the risk of a breach.

Start by checking if your preferred apps have integrations within the school’s chosen learning management system. If not, is there a close equivalent? Over the past few months, LMS companies have expanded partnerships to embed apps and collaboration platforms, like Cisco Webex Education Connector, directly into platforms like Canvas, Blackboard, Sakai and many others.

Know what security threats exist

As students and educators are spending even more time online – and on networks that lack security protections – it’s tempting for attackers to target and exploit their devices. In the U.S., the FBI issued a warning that school boards are increasingly being targeted by hackers. This was spurred by a ransomware attack in a Baltimore school network, which led to lost data, network downtime and ultimately the cancellation of online classes.

Just as media literacy has become important, students of all ages and educators need to understand what potential threats exist online and how to avoid falling into a hacker’s trap. This can range from email phishing scams, unpatched software and even remote desktop applications that gain access to sensitive data.

Go back to security basics

You don’t need to be an IT expert, but being aware of what security solutions are in place and responding appropriately when they’re activated can be crucial in preventing a breach. Good security is often invisible and will only make itself known when presented with a potential threat – this could be a pop-up notification or blocking access to a website.

It sounds simple but taking time to read the security notification on a website or email and installing a security update in a timely manner (we know the “ask me again tomorrow” button is tempting), as well as encouraging students to do the same, builds good habits for the long term.

Fred King is a business solutions architect on Cisco’s global education team. See how Cisco is reimagining education here.

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