With the onset of covid-19 in early 2022, educational institutes and schools had no other choice but to adopt the online learning module to ensure academic continuity for their students. However, it looks like the e-Learning trend is going to continue even though the pandemic situation has been brought considerably under control.
Many training institutes and schools are now adopting the hybrid model of in-person learning and online learning for their students. Even though institutes and students benefit from e-Learning, there is still a big question mark about the data security of students from targeted hacker attacks.
Interestingly, the hackers can be from inside the institutes, or from outside. There have been reports where the students managed to hack into the school system and give themselves better grades on the papers.
However, more severe attacks were perpetrated by hackers from outside the institutes. There are many reports where hackers hit the school systems with ransomware and demanded huge sums of money as ransom. For example, the University of Utah ended up paying half a million dollars to stop the hackers from selling the data of their students on the dark web.
It looks like the hackers are finding systems of educational institutes as easy targets because the users do not have proper awareness of the security and intricacies of hacking attacks.
Therefore, teachers and schools must consider using high IT security features and practices like content protection, data integrity, access control, two-step authentication, encryption, etc, to safeguard the data of their students.
The data has to be secured on both sides -
- Firstly, on the server side where the sensitive data is saved
- Secondly, the communication devices of end-users in classrooms or homes
Here are a few ways how educational institutes can protect their data from cyber attacks.
Secure the data while it is transmitted
One of the most time-tested practices for protecting the data from reaching the wrong hands during transmissions is by using end-to-end encryption technology. Schools and colleges will need an SSL certificate for their websites so that the data gets encrypted while moving from one system to another.
Depending upon the level of security validation you require, you can choose between three 3 SSL certificates
- Domain validation - The certificate is used commonly, but it only validates only the authenticity of the domain.
- Organizational validation - This certificate helps in gaining the trust of visitors because it confirms the Identity of the enterprise or institute. It also offers better security than the domain validation SSL.
- Extended validation - This is a highly secured SSL as it confirms more information about the institute like the physical address, operational status, legality of the company, and more. Institutes and enterprises can build a high level of trustworthiness by using this SSL certificate.
Securing the database while on the server -
Schools record a lot of student databases like progress reports, behavioral reports, contact addresses, diplomas, and lots more. These databases must be protected by using SSL encryption even while they are at rest. Even if there is a security breach, the encrypted data will be useless to the hackers, thereby minimizing the possibilities of effective data loss.
Security for 3rd party apps -
Another area of a possible security breach is from the 3rd party apps. When you use only the username and password to log in, it is one-step verification security. That is not enough. It is always better to use 2-step security verification while using 3rd party apps, as it is not very tough for hackers to penetrate single-layer security. 2nd layer of biometric security can be added like facial scanning, fingerprint authentication, text message OTP, etc.
End-use devices -
The online learning system of schools will be connected to a lot of external devices like laptops, tablet PCs, and smartphones. IT departments at the school must ensure using Mobile Device Management Software for monitoring and managing all the end-client devices. The devices can be authenticated with the use of PKI or The Public Key Infrastructure. This is an essential security practice that can safeguard the systems and networks quite considerably, making it near impossible for hackers to break into the system.
Digital Signature -
Protecting important educational documents like the diploma certificate, report cards or transcripts is one of the critical challenges for educational institutes providing online learning. The best way of safeguarding these documents is by using the digital signature, which can be also used remotely for signing documents.
It is not possible to forge the digital signatures, and if it is coupled with an additional security layer of PKI, the data becomes almost impossible to break into. Digital signatures will have permanent validity with no expiry dates. Even the students will not be able to manipulate the certificates with digital signatures.
Securing the systems and networks from phishing attacks -
Phishing is one of the most common ways hackers penetrate the systems of unsuspecting users. It is usually done by sending a link to emails or messages on phone apps. These emails will look genuine which is why many of the users get folded into compromising their security.
These links will take you to the pages which look identical to the school website, but when the users log in to those pages, their IDs and passwords get compromised. Another means of breaking into the systems with phishing links is by sending malware or key-logger software.
“We may use the best IT infrastructure and tools for ensuring the safety of students’ data but it is equally prudent for the students to be aware of the possible security breaches that could take place through their systems. We always make it a point to educate our online safety training students about the best security practices to ensure complete protection of their data” - CEO AdvanceOnline Solutions.
Clicking on the wrong links is one of the common mistakes that lead to data compromise. Therefore, colleges and schools should make sure that students click only on the official links for downloads and data sharing.