By Troy Lambert
In 2013, a 17-year-old student hacked the Sachem school district computer system, accessed student records that included Social Security numbers and confidential medical information, and posted them online. The student pleaded not guilty, even though he orally admitted to taking the information.
This case highlighted the flaws in data security in school districts nationwide, and many scrambled to catch up with other industries.
Cyber crime is continuing to escalate exponentially. According to the University of Alabama Birmingham by March of 2014 there were more disclosed records lost or stolen then in all of 2013. Each cyber attack costs on average of $1.6 million.
Education institutions are increasingly being targeted, if not from competitors, as in the case of a New Jersey school district, then from identity thieves—more than 10,000 school district employees in Maryland had their personal information stolen in 2014.
As devices such as iPads, Chromebooks, and PC’s connected to the internet become an integral part of classroom programs, the security of students and their personal information presents increasing challenges.
Luckily, technology offers benefits and drawbacks, and it’s with technology that you can keep school, student and classroom information secure.
Gaggle offers many products for schools, including data backup and security. They also offer Safe Classroom LMS, which helps manage assignments and detects inappropriate words and images in student email, text messages, discussion boards, email attachments and other computer files.
This is a school- and district-wide program that offers extensive protection, but is a subscription service, so may be cost prohibitive. To offset costs, the company offers a trial version supported by advertising, but this is offered on an invitation only basis.
Edgewave is another school- or district-wide program and promises protection throughout the school network no matter what device students are using, including Chromebooks and iPads. The company also offers free resources, such as a downloadable Cyber Security Guide for Schools.
“As devices such as iPads, Chromebooks, and PC’s connected to the internet become an integral part of classroom programs, the security of students and their personal information presents increasing challenges.”
Their website advertises cyber security protection schools can afford, and is also a subscription based service.
There are several parental control apps that easily translate into classroom use. This is especially helpful if your district doesn’t have a program like Gaggle or Edgewave—you can use built in and third party applications to yield similar security results.
On devices using Google Chrome, restrictions can be set within the Google Safety Center, under the “for families” tab. Protection includes Family Safe search results, YouTube filtering by rating, allowing access to only approved apps or those based on ratings and age-appropriateness. The tools and security are simple to use and very effective.
Similar to Google, Microsoft Parental Controls allows filtering by website rating, age-appropriateness, and can even block web access at certain times. Specific programs and websites can be blocked as well.
These preferences can be easily set by type of user, so as new students or users are added, the security profile can be easily duplicated.
Mac OS X
Mac also has their own parental controls, which can be defined by user or user type, and are as extensive and powerful as those offered by Windows and Google. From general to very specific settings, a wide, customized range of protection can be easily established.
Third Party Programs
To provide even better security than the built-in restrictions, and to provide security on tablets and devices that do not have parental control options, like Android devices, there are several third-party options.
K-9 Web Protection (Blue Coat)
K-9 Web Protection works on both Windows and Mac, and offers a simple but powerful interface that is easy to understand. The program offers website blocking and logs online activity and failed login attempts.
It does lack sophisticated phishing protection and communication monitoring, but is otherwise robust.
Qustodio offers protection on WIndows, Mac OS-X, and Android platforms. If provides teachers and admin with tabbed reports, and the icon can be hidden from devices—you can also set up a password so students can’t open the app.
It occasionally fails when blocking borderline content, but otherwise does a fantastic job. It offers unique, real-time categorization of sites rather than relying on a database of known sites, increasing its potential to keep threats at bay.
There are browser add-ons that are not as powerful as standalone programs, but are easy to set up and use. A few that work for Chrome and Firefox are:
For younger children KidZui is a dedicated browser with built-in protection; essentially a giant white list with integrated social media functions.
Most antivirus software offers parental controls that are easily adaptable to broader school and classroom use. Teachers and staff will be at the mercy of whatever software the school IT department has chosen to use, but it’s worth considering as an option for safe Internet use in the classroom and computer lab.
However your classroom or computer instruction is set up, there are several options available to protect students, whether you’re using controls integrated into computer operating systems, third party programs or antivirus software.
The important thing is for teachers and staff to be vigilant as hackers, predators and students become more tech-savvy and learn to circumvent security systems and protection programs.
No one program is the only solution, and none are a substitute for engaged teachers and other faculty overseeing and interacting with students.