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Get schooled on cybersecurity: online learning security tips for students and parents

Courtesy of the National Cybersecurity Alliance in collaboration with Educause

As K-12 schools adopt fully online or blended virtual and in-person learning environments, it is important to understand some basic cybersecurity steps students and parents can take to make sure they move to the top of the class securely.

October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month, a great time to brush up on the subject. A collaborative effort between government and industry to ensure every American has the resources they need to stay safer and more secure online, the annual event is co-led by the National Cybersecurity Alliance (NCSA) and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA).

Since its inception in 2004 under leadership from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and NCSA, Cybersecurity Awareness Month has grown exponentially, reaching consumers, small and medium-sized businesses, corporations, educational institutions and young people across the nation.


Protect your personal information. Personal information is any information that can be used to identify you or your accounts. Examples include your name, address, phone number, usernames and passwords, pictures, birthday and social security number. If a stranger or someone you know asks you to share this information online, say no and stop talking to them. Immediately tell your parent or guardian who asked for it. As K-12 schools adopt fully online or blended virtual and in-person learning environments, it is important to understand some basic cybersecurity steps students and parents can take to make sure they move to the top of the class securely.

Check before you download. Talk to your parents before you open an email attachment or download any software from the internet. These can sometimes cause viruses, which can make you unable to use your computer.

Think before you click. Remember what you learned about not accepting candy from strangers? Apply that to the online world as well. Do not click links in emails, text messages or chat boxes from people you do not know–and be suspicious of links sent from those you know as well.

Block the bullies. If another student in your online class is making you feel uncomfortable, tell a trusted adult.

Protect your computer. Be sure to keep your laptop or tablet close to you. When you’re done using it for the day, put it in a safe place at home. Don’t leave it by itself outside or in a public place.

The library is open. Need to do research for your lessons? Talk to your librarian, teacher or parent about where you can go for safe and accurate websites for research. You can also talk to your local public library.


New tech, who dis? If the school issues or requires a technology that you and/or your child are not familiar with, explore its features together. Configure the security and privacy settings together immediately. If you are not tech-savvy, it’s OK. If you need help with any of these tips, reach out to other parents, to your child’s school, or trusted family members. The goal here is not to make you or your child a security expert, but to make online learning a safe space.

Apply your research. Apps are a great way for students to learn and apply their knowledge. Before downloading any new learning app on your child’s device, make sure it’s a legitimate app. Who created the app? What do the user reviews say? Are there any articles published online about the app’s privacy & security features (or lack thereof)?

Don’t hesitate to update. Having the latest security software, web browser, and operating system on devices children are using for their virtual schooling is one of the best defenses against online threats. When the computer or device says it’s time to update the software, don’t click postpone. Update.

Strong passwords in play keep cybercriminals at bay. When is the last time you changed your home’s router password, if ever? Change passwords for routers and smart devices from their default manufacturer’s password to one that is long (at least 12 characters) and unique.

Parental controls. Parental controls are a great way to establish parameters around what kids can and can’t do online. They do not replace candid discussions with your kids about online security and safety. Children may not recognize the dangers of visiting unknown websites or communicating with strangers online, so talk with them about these threats.

Network separately. Students aren’t the only ones spending more time on the home network. Parents are also working from home at an unprecedented scale. If you and your children are all working from home, consider using separate networks to enhance your security–particularly if your work involves access to sensitive information.

Know your role. Sometimes it’s unavoidable for children to use the same computer that parents use for their work. If you’re sharing devices, set up different user accounts so that children have access to a guest account with limited permissions and access. For instance, restrict your child’s permissions to install and run software applications.

Configure privacy settings. Go through accounts with children to configure privacy and security settings to limit over-sharing of information–such as location and camera sharing. Walk the kids through why certain settings need to be changed.