It's back to school season! While this is an exciting time of year for students, parents and teachers it is also an optimal time to check-in with your school and family to review online security features. To ensure a safe and secure new school year here are a few cybersecurity tips to review before the school year routine gets into full swing.
1. Setup Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)
MFA or as it's sometimes referred to Two-Factor authentication is one of the easiest and most effective ways to protect yourself and your family online. Setting up MFA on your PC, Laptop or Tablet, adds a second layer of protection decreasing the likelihood of unauthorized users gaining access to your information. It's not only effective, its user friendly and easy to use. Just like when you log in to your online banking and it sends you a code via text or email...that my friends is MFA! It is an additional layer of protection from the standard user name and password. You can easily enable MFA on all your device logins including laptops and tablets.
Here are some recommended MFA applications in the market today:
- Microsoft Authenticator - https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/security/mobile-authenticator-app
- Google Authenticator - https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.google.android.apps.authenticator2&hl=en_US&gl=US
- Duo Security - https://duo.com/product/multi-factor-authentication-mfa
2. Strong Passwords or Passphrases
Is the most used password in your family's life a version of either your first born child's name or family pet followed by a few sequential numbers or birth date? Sorry password children and animals, your time as the favorite must come to an end. Experts now recommend AT LEAST 8 character passwords made up of: a mix of upper and lower case letters, mix of letters and number and at least one special character. Can't remember all your passwords? There are password manager applications available like Google Password Manager, Lass Pass, and 1Password to help families and educators maintain and even generate strong passwords for you.
For extra security try using passphrases instead of passwords. A passphrase is a secret sequence of words or text. It is a longer string of text that make up a phrase or sentence. Passphrases are the next gen of passwords. They are similar to a password but generally longer which adds a layer of security.
3. Phishing Awareness
Think before you click! Since the pandemic most school aged children now have at the very least a school administered email address. Attention teachers and parents, please take 5 minutes to have a conversation with your school aged children, especially college students on how to spot phishing emails. Even school administered email addresses can be victims of phishing attacks. Knowledge and awareness are key! If students know what to look for that spark suspicion of a phishing email, they will be able to report it and avoid allowing attackers to gain access to their information and even the school's network. Common items to be on the lookout for in a phishing email attempt:
- Spelling errors and bad grammar
- Mismatched email domains
- Suspicious links and unexpected attachments
- Urgent action requests and threats
4. Staying Safe While on Public Wi-Fi
Public Wi-Fi is great (especially when it's free!) when you want to get out of the normal setting of school, home or dorm room to focus or just unwind with a cup of coffee at the local coffee shop. But like most things in life that are free, there are risks. Not all public Wi-Fi networks are secured. You can usually identify an unsecured network if you are able to connect within range and without any type of security feature such as a password or login. Things to look for in a secured network are user agreements to legal terms, registering an account or password requirement before being able to connect. If the connection is encryption-free it may allow hackers to monitor website traffic and files sent between your connection and the server on the public Wi-Fi network. Out of caution at the risk of exposing your sensitive data to hackers, while on public Wi-Fi avoid accessing personal bank accounts, online shopping with your credit card information and health records. Additionally there is an option to use a virtual private network (VPN) What is a VPN? to make ensure your privacy is protected while on public Wi-Fi.
5. Device Safety Settings
Some school issued devices are setup as such that students can only access a limited set of websites and applications approved and setup by the administration. However, don't be afraid to speak up. There are no silly questions when it comes to protecting your child and learning about what technology they will be learning on and what administration has in place to protect the students using them.
Inquire with school administrators on what digital privacy settings are in place to ensure your child's issued device is secure. You may also want to ask for a list of apps that are on the device and what they are being used for. The pandemic has changed many things in life including how school is taught. There are endless amounts of educational apps and websites available for teachers to use. Administrators responsible for setting up school devices should disable download capabilities so nothing can be installed except the approved learning tools. But it does not hurt to ask just to be sure. Back to school night is a good time to address any questions or concerns you may have when it comes to your child's device security settings.
Think Before You Click.