The novel coronavirus has changed the world, exerting a domino effect on education and cybersecurity. All of these changes require, above all, that we change our perspective, as well. Previously, school districts dealt with securing their systems at both the district and school level. But now, teaching, learning and working are all happening at home simultaneously. It’s messy, far more complicated, and gives our cyber and IT teams significantly less control over networks and security than there was when traditional in-school learning was the norm.
Of course, this altered reality reeks of exposure potential, especially given that attackers are smart and adaptable. They’re taking advantage of the fact that kids are generally uneducated about digital security, parents are distracted and overwhelmed, and that teachers and administrators are stretched far too thin. It’s especially crucial we keep our security measures tight, even if it feels like an uphill battle.
Know your audience
As cybersecurity professionals, it’s not enough to think of security elements alone. Instead, we need to first think about the people sitting behind the keyboards. Whether it’s a junior high student with learning challenges who is unable to get the same support she did onsite at school or the first grader who relied on school for hot meals and is now at home without any, the challenges of helping these children focus, let alone excel, is enormous.
Parents, too, are facing unprecedented challenges in their own right, having to juggle childcare, teaching assistance and their own careers all while trying to ensure their family and friends don’t get sick. No longer are we working to support professionals who are bound by corporate standards - we are now cyber pros for families that need help in an unrelenting year.
If we don’t keep the entire picture in mind, we can’t adequately solve pressing cybersecurity issues because it’s all interwoven. We’re all part of a community, and the only way we’ll achieve everything we need to in this challenging time is by leading with empathy and helping one another out. With this in mind, here are some key factors that can help you educate your community and elevate their security measures.
Train parents & students
We all know that kids are given devices before they are taught how to be secure on them. That’s a hard game of catch up, especially now, when their main job - being a student - is done online. Combine that with parents who are now being forced to play the role of IT professional, most without much understanding of the physical or technical requirements needed to protect their home networks from risk, and we’ve got a perfect storm of vulnerability.
Both parents and students need our help. We need to assume they don’t have any cyber knowledge so we have to guide them to get a bird’s eye view of their own risk, then train them to address common issues. These sessions need to be simple, and, where possible, fun - or at least not entirely boring.
In addition to trainings and education, make other resources readily available to parents. Simple manuals go a long way, and some schools have taken it further by creating online forums, where parents can ask questions and get advice from other parents. Of course, it’s best if something like this is led and overseen by a security professional to ensure the right information is being disseminated. But it does save time and spare your team from having to handhold parents one-on-one through every question they have.
Make it personal
Training and resources, though, aren’t enough on their own. Most people won’t take the time to jump through extra hoops for security unless they understand why it impacts them and their families. So, you must connect the dots for them. Let them know what kind of information attackers are going after, and share security news about the realities of digital vulnerability. Go deeper and explain the layers of steps you take to secure your own home network. If parents understand they could have their privacy compromised and be left vulnerable, they’re more likely to work to change their habits and increase security inside their own homes.
Rely on the community
I know what you’re thinking… doing all this work to equip parents and kids will add to your already burdensome workload. But think about it this way: You can either plan to spend a couple hours each week empowering your community to do their part with security, or you can leave everyone vulnerable and eventually succumb to an attack. I would rather plan out security education and improvements ahead of time, than scramble all night when an unexpected incident strikes.
Also, remember that community is a two-way street and that you are a member, too. One of the best tips I can give is to involve your community in these efforts. Create a competition for your student body, inviting kids to come up with creative cyber security contest ideas. Choose a winner each week and give them a prize and perhaps some public kudos. Then, roll the contest out for all students. Host Cyber Happy Hour via Zoom where parents can share what steps they have taken and what risks they are concerned about. Community involvement means that you save time and enjoy a reduced workload while your community is still educated on improving their own security.
COVID-19 has left an indelible mark on schools, families and communities everywhere. But we can rise to the challenge and lead the way in keeping our technology systems - and each other - more secure.