Is Your School At Risk For A Data Breach?
What Teachers And Students Need To Do To Protect Themselves
Part 1 of a two-part series about how students and teachers can protect their personal and professional data. The second part of this series will look at how charter schools can protect their data on an infrastructure level.
With hackers stealing millions of customers’ information from Target, Yahoo, Equifax and many other companies, data breaches are happening with frightening regularity. As more retail companies, universities and hospitals are targeted, it’s important that charter schools don’t think they’re immune from the threat.
While it’s easy to think that charter schools aren’t big enough to be a target for hackers, that’s a dangerous misconception. Charter schools have a lot of valuable data – student information, payroll data and financial information – that hackers want.
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Recent attacks include a security breach at Prince George’s County Public School System in 2014, which exposed 10,000 employees’ personal data, including social security numbers, according to an article on fedscoop.com. In 2015, a school district in New Jersey had a ransomware attack shut down its computer system, which disrupted online statewide tests for four elementary schools, the article noted.
No school wants to deal with the damage a data breach can cause. By educating themselves and following a few smart safety practices, students and teachers can help ensure their personal and professional data is safe.
Here are some tips students and teachers should follow to protect themselves:
Educate Yourself About Threats
The best thing students and teachers can do to protect their personal and professional data is to continually educate themselves about threats. There are new viruses, scams, malware and other threats developing all the time. Pay attention to any alerts that the school or IT providers send you and follow their advice.
And don’t be afraid to trust your instincts. If you get a strange email or message on social media and something just doesn’t feel right, close it immediately and don’t click on any links or open any attachments.
Change Your Passwords Regularly
Remembering passwords can be tricky, especially when you log into a number of different sites. But using the same password for each site makes it easy for hackers to get your password on one site and then use that same password to access everything else. Also change any default passwords on devices or applications as soon as you log in.
It’s best to create different passwords for every site. And make sure they’re not easy ones like “password” or “1234.” Make sure you’re using longer passwords that are at least eight characters long. The longer the password, the more secure it is. Also, use upper- and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols to make passwords harder to crack. And lastly, don’t write them down where they can be easily seen.
Watch Out For Malware, Ransomware
Malware, a term that covers viruses, worms, adware, spyware and other malicious software, is one of the biggest threats. One in 131 emails contains malware, according to Symantec.com. Once infected, hackers can access your files, stealing sensitive information.
Ransomware, a newer threat, actually locks down your system until a fee is paid. If the fee isn’t paid, the system will need to be rebuilt, causing weeks or months of downtime and disrupting everything from payroll to critical assessments testing.
To protect yourself from these threats, don’t open suspicious emails or click on dubious web pop-ups or links. Install anti-virus software on your computer and devices and make sure you run updates. These updates often have patches for malware or ransomware, so make sure you run them as soon as possible.
Be Cautious When Using Public Networks
When your work day stretches long past school hours, heading to a coffee shop is a good way to break up the day. While you’re there using their public wifi, it’s good to remember a few things. Public wifi networks are unencrypted, making it easier for hackers to access your device and your data.
When you’re working, be careful about accessing your banking, student files or other sensitive information while on a public network. Remember, any malware you pick up can easily be transferred to your school’s network when you use those devices at school.
Taking a few minutes to follow these tips will help ensure that teachers and students are protecting their personal and professional data. Hackers aren’t going away and everyone needs to be educated and vigilant about protecting themselves from malware, ransomware and other threats.
Share Your Experiences:
Have you experienced a data breach at your school? How do you educate your staff and students about cyber threats? Any tips that have worked well in your community? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
- Protecting your school starts with teachers and students
- Following a few simple tips like changing passwords regularly and using longer passwords of at least eight characters can help protect your data
- Malware and ransomware are growing rapidly. Avoiding suspicious emails, links and web pop-ups and running anti-virus software help protect against these threats.