With schools and universities still closed and the academic year heading into its second term, South Africa’s estimated 14 million school children and students are having to rely on digital tools and online classrooms to keep on top of school work. However, says Mikey Molfessis, cybersecurity expert at Mimecast, the sudden reliance on online teaching tools and an increase in communication via digital channels, is creating unique cybersecurity challenges for academic institutions and learners alike.
“The sudden reliance on teaching tools that may be new to many teachers and learners is potentially creating opportunities for cybercriminals who prey on unsuspecting Internet users with the main aim of monetary gain. Since not all students and learners will have personal devices, parents are most likely allowing them to use their work devices for online learning and interaction with schools. This can expose organisations to additional security risks. To protect educators and learners during this time of disruption, education providers need to ensure they raise awareness of potential risks to give end-users enough information to make informed decisions that can prevent risky actions.”
Some parents are also likely to take out old laptops or tablets that haven’t been used in some time for their kids to use for schoolwork. “Since these devices will have been offline for an extended period of time, it’s likely that they won’t have the latest security patches or software updates,” says Molfessis. “This means school kids and students are using unprotected devices for their school work and for accessing the internet, which is inherently risky.”
He adds that many of the tools being used by teachers to facilitate learning, such as videoconferencing apps, have proven they can fail to protect users against cybercriminals if incorrectly enabled or used without the correct security measures in place. “Schools and universities should ensure they have advanced protection in place to protect the privacy of learners as educators engage in online learning activities and communicate more with learners and parents via email. Regular cybersecurity awareness training should also be prioritised to ensure teachers can identify and avoid potential cyber risks and keep learners safe during this disruptive period.”