Why schools need to up their cybersecurity game

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Online learning platforms have been targeted by cybercriminals.
Online learning platforms have been targeted by cybercriminals.
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As if educators didn’t have enough to worry about, now they’ve become more prone to cybercrime as well.

Schools around the world have been closing on and off since the pandemic began and online or hybrid learning models (in-person as well as remote) have been set up to replace the traditional classrooms.

By the end of April last year, more than 1.2 billion children across 186 countries were impacted by school closures. 

And as they set up their remote learning models, they apparently became easy pickings for cybercriminals – the number of users that faced threats disguised as popular online learning platforms increased by 60% in the second half of 2020, according to global cybersecurity company Kaspersky.

Read more | Here’s how to protect your online identity

South African schools may be opening again soon, but you can’t help wonder for how long. If we look elsewhere in the world, educational facilities are once again closing due to new varieties of the virus and a resurgence in infections.

“Unfortunately, until all students are back in the classroom full-time, educational institutions will continue to be a popular target for criminals, particularly since this sector has traditionally not prioritised its cybersecurity. The pandemic has made it clear that this has to change, especially since technology is increasingly being incorporated in the classroom – virtual learning or not,” says security expert at Kaspersky, Anton Ivanov.

The most popular lure by far for cybercriminals was Zoom. Hardly surprising, as it’s become the virtual meetings go-to site with more than 300 million daily meeting participants. The second most popular was Moodle, followed by Google Meet.

The vast majority (around 98%) of the threats encountered were “not-a-virus”, Kaspersky says. This type of threat is divided into riskware and adware. Adware bombards users with unwanted ads and riskware consists of various files that may carry out different actions on your computer without your consent. Trojans (viruses) made up roughly 1% of the threats encountered.

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Users typically encounter threats disguised as popular video meeting apps and online course platforms through fake application installers. They may, for example, come across unofficial websites designed to look like the original platforms or emails disguised as special offers or notifications from the platform.

Kaspersky offers the following advice to stay safe from malware and other threats disguised as video conferencing apps or online learning platforms:

  • Don’t download any unofficial versions or modifications of these applications/platforms. Look for information about the developer and choose the official app stores.
  • Use different, strong passwords for each of your accounts.
  • Always make sure you are on the official company website before proceeding to download anything to your device. Fake websites may look just like the real thing, so you should always double-check the URL format and spelling of the company name before you download anything.
  • Use a reliable security solution that delivers advanced protection on all your devices.
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