Cybersecurity in distance education, something the world was not prepared for.
The distance education has been a modality of study that has transcended with the time, many universities have offered this modality of study to facilitate the learning processes for the students that want or require to stay at home but still want to follow their careers. After the Covid-19 pandemic, most education systems have had to reinvent themselves in a short period of time in order to adapt their classes to the new reality. This has included other levels of education more than just the university level, so a series of challenges have arisen regarding cyber security in distance education in order to keep virtual classes safe.
E-learning or distance education.
It can be defined as the implementation of electronic resources applied to education in order to have access to an educational plan outside the physical facilities of the educational center. It refers to courses, school years, degrees or any type of academic training that is carried out on online or remote platforms.
The way it works is through the use of video conferencing software such as zoom, skype or Whereby, through these students can interact with teachers in real time, in the same way they can use other resources such as Google classroom for the delivery and assignment of homework.
What are the benefits of distance learning?
In this new normality the virtual classes or distance classes have taken a significant advantage arriving to replace almost totally the presential classes, which has brought a series of benefits like the following:
- They can learn anywhere: specifically in university education, students can enroll in universities that may be in different countries so it is not necessary to travel or move to study. So, it can be said that distance education provides more possibilities of study by removing the physical barrier.
- It offers opportunities to all types of students: distance education provides an opportunity for study to people who do not have the possibility of physically attending educational centers, either because they have motor difficulties or other special cases. Therefore, E-learning offers study opportunities to these people who in other circumstances would not be able to access face-to-face classes.
- It reduces costs considerably: Online classes mean a budget cut for both students and educational institutions, this is due to the fact that in distance education few staff participate, such as teachers and managers, so classroom maintenance costs, salaries, services among others are reduced.
And what are the disadvantages?
It is also prudent to see the other side of the coin, there are latent risks and most of them are expressed in the area of cyber security in distance education and personal contingencies.
- Difference in opportunities among students: When we talk about the radical change that universities, colleges and high schools have undergone due to the current health crisis, this has left a percentage of students defenseless, since not all of them have an Internet connection, which has forced students to resort to shared Internet networks, which exposes them to computer dangers or information theft.
- Difficulties in adaptation and lack of controlled environment: Distance education can be a challenge for students who have moved from a physical environment to a virtual one in an abrupt manner. Distance education, like all change, requires a period of adaptation so that students can adhere to the change of space, environmental contingencies, personal situations, among others. For what many of these students can present problems in adapting from a neutral environment as it is the educational institutions to a less controlled area as the home, what can bring factors that obstruct with the learning.
- Deterioration in interpersonal relationships: when moving to an online environment, physical social relationships are restricted, which increases a deterioration in interactions and creates a social gap between students and teachers. In the same way, having little communication with teachers or tutors creates a distrust on the part of the student towards the evaluation and teaching methods.
The cyber security in the distance education.
As we have already learned, the distance education develops in an online environment, which represents a different space of interaction between students, teachers and directors; and where a great amount of information circulates that comes from different media and that suggests different levels of importance. Therefore, this environment entails a series of risks or dangers as far as cyber security is concerned.
In the first instance, it is possible to find problems or vulnerabilities in the systems used for e-learning; these systems contain different and varied functions in which a large number of people interact simultaneously, where files and different applications are uploaded and downloaded, among other things. Therefore, it is not surprising that there are different security threats, which range from authentication problems, insecure or unstable communication, system crashes, information leaks, malicious file execution, among others.
There are also other types of cyber security risks that can come from the outside, and when faced with inexperienced or uninformed users, can result in fluctuations in security and attacks from cyber attackers. Some of the risks that can occur are:
- Attacks on software: viruses, worms, ransomwares, etc.
- Theft of intellectual property: copyright, counterfeiting, piracy.
- Hardware failures or errors
- Information extortion: phishing, vishing, etc.
- Identity theft: hacking, theft of users and passwords, educational credentials, etc.
Solutions and preventions for cybersecurity in distance education.
There are some recommendations that institutions, together with students, can follow to maintain cyber security in distance education:
- Maintain unique devices for the platforms used in classes: In this case it is advisable to use a single device for online classes, as using different devices can put the information stored on it at risk due to the exposure of these computers to different social networks, websites and applications outside the educational environment that may be infected with some malware. By using a single device, be it a laptop, phone or tablet, you can secure the information stored, as well as educational accounts, passwords, bank details associated with tuition payments, etc.
- Create a good security policy: teach students how to maintain computer security, training them to identify phishing attempts, fraudulent emails, malicious files, infected websites and software; as well as safeguard their information, have unique passwords for each action that requires one.
- Create backups of important information: This can be useful for both students and educational institutions, as they store extremely important data, such as personal information of students and employees, bank details, institutional funds, legal documents, among others. Therefore, it is important to have a backup of all this information in case of an attack, as well as to protect this information using encryption tools and external storage.
- Limit the use of social networks in the educational environment: another good practice is to avoid sharing sensitive information about personal educational data on social networks, as cyber-crooks can take advantage of these means to carry out phishing attempts on uninformed students in order to steal information that they can use to reach a larger target such as the educational institution itself.
On this occasion, we learned in more detail about distance education, its advantages and disadvantages, and how to keep your important information protected. It is vital to maintain good practices to ensure the greatest possible security and thus make the distance learning experience effective. In the same way, if you are the owner of an educational institution that is implementing distance learning and you were the victim of a cyber attack or you are looking for computer security solutions for your institution, you can feel free to contact our team.