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Commentary: Under Biden, hackers are targeting schools at a historic pace

Opinion
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With the new school year under way, we continue to see an evolving education landscape, with remote learning playing an increasingly pivotal role in the process. As we learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, and now with a potential resurgence of new mutations, keeping remote education options at hand is critical.

While virtual learning has its benefits, it also has many drawbacks. One of them is the threat of cyberattacks. Despite the Biden administration’s questionable claims of making cybersecurity a national priority, in reality, it hasn’t done nearly enough. In the first two-thirds of 2023 alone, a staggering 48 school districts have been hit by ransomware attacks, more than in all of 2022.

These hacks have exposed sensitive data, including medical records, psychiatric evaluations, and sexual assault reports. So with an inept administration in charge for at least the next 16 months, ensuring a secure learning environment against cyberattacks must fall to schools, parents, and students working in concert.

Even before the pandemic, the U.S. education system had become an attractive target for hackers, as K-12 schools, colleges, and other learning institutions have seen a rise in cyberattacks in recent years.

The consequences of these breaches can be devastating, as they compromise personal information and disrupt the learning process. Therefore, schools need to become more assertive in safeguarding their vulnerable networks.

One way that schools can address the problem is with more cybersecurity training for staff and students. Integrating this into the curriculum earlier, especially with elementary school-aged children using online devices at younger ages than ever, is an obvious way to bolster safety.

Teachers and support staff should also receive additional training to stay ahead of the latest hacking threats and learn the best practices for preventing and responding to online attacks. Empowering the American education apparatus with knowledge can foster a culture of cybersecurity that acts as the first line of defense locally.

Increasing investment in security systems and protocols that include updating and patching software, employing broader firewalls and detection systems, and implementing new and stronger password policies remains vital. Regular security audits are also essential to address weaknesses before hackers exploit them.

Cyber education, like education on most things, should really begin in the home, and parents must play a larger role in protecting their kids from cyber threats. As students increasingly use personal devices for remote learning, parents need to ensure the security of those devices and educate their kids about online safety. Here are some steps parents can take.

Set boundaries: Parents should make rules for time online and what websites are allowed. Teaching kids the importance of not sharing personal info online and the potential consequences of doing so is key.

Use parental control apps: Install parental control apps on devices. This will help parents monitor and restrict access to certain apps and websites.

Educate your kids on pitfalls online: Discuss cyberbullying, online predators, and email phishing scams. Encourage a nurturing line of communication so your kids feel comfortable reporting suspicious online behavior they may encounter.

Secure devices: Check all devices to make sure they are up to date with security patches and have strong passwords. Teach your kids about two-factor authentication to add an additional layer of security.

Students also must take a bigger role in protecting themselves online. Digital literacy is practically as important as traditional literacy these days, and students must take the initiative in safeguarding themselves online. Here are some steps students can take.

Secure passwords: Creating strong and unique passwords for all online accounts and learning to use password manager software to keep track of them are essential.

Watch out for phishing attempts: Don’t trust unsolicited emails or links from unknown sources. Verify the identity of message senders before opening emails or links or sharing your personal information.

Update your software: Regularly update operating systems and all programs and apps on your devices to patch vulnerabilities hackers may exploit.

Secure social media accounts: Adjust privacy settings on social media accounts to limit what data is visible to the public. Don’t ever share information that could be used against you.

Report suspicious activity: If you encounter cyberbullying, harassment, or other online threats, immediately report them to your parent or guardian or perhaps even a trusted school authority figure. Reporting these incidents is crucial to stopping them and protecting others.

The new school year brings opportunities for learning and growth and presents challenges in the form of preventing hacking attacks, foreign and domestic. Protecting the future of online education and ensuring the safest possible learning environment require the entire learning ecosystem working in concert. Taxpayer funds shouldn’t be squandered when investing in cybersecurity, parents must take a larger role in educating and protecting their children, and students need to become responsible when online. By working together and taking active measures, we all can help navigate the cybersphere safely and help ensure that learning remains unimpeded by bad actors.

Julio Rivera is a business and political strategist, cybersecurity researcher, political commentator, and editorial director for Reactionary Times.
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