To learn (online) or not to learn?

6 tips for celebrating National Online Learning Day and keeping your data safe!

Online learning certainly has many advantages; it is convenient, cost-efficient, environmentally friendly, and helps knock down educational and socio-economic barriers. However, for the 40 million students who recently fell victim to the famous Chegg breach, online learning might just be a painful reminder of the hazards of the online atmosphere.

The Chegg cybersecurity breach exposed the email addresses and personal information of 40 million students of the Chegg online education company and left their digital privacy vulnerable. The breach also exposed students’ physical addresses, which could potentially lead to physical security risks. Edmodo, a similar type of education platform, also experienced a cyberattack, where details from millions of user accounts were stolen and offered up for sale on the dark web

What to expect in the near future

Magnifying the problem is that very little industry standardization and regulatory insight has kept pace with the rapid growth and proliferation of e-learning platforms. According to insidehighered.com, today nearly ⅓ of all students take at least one course online; it is this rapid rate of growth coupled with the e-learning industry’s lack of readiness for cybersecurity threats, that make e-learning platforms highly vulnerable to cyberattacks. Furthermore, it’s reasonable to assume that as the e-learning industry continues to develop, we will see a corresponding increase in the number and frequency of data breaches. Fortunately, there’s no need to panic. Even if industry regulations aren’t where they should be, there are effective measures you can take to protect your data and privacy.

6 Cyber Security Tips for Safe Online Learning

Always use strong passwords. Strong passwords are harder for hackers to crack. For a password to be strong, it should be at least 12 characters and contain numbers and symbols as well as both upper and lowercase letters.

When you’re finished using a site, log out. When you login to a website, a cookie, that is used to identify you, is created on your browser. When cookies are stolen, your account can be compromised. This is a problem particularly for sites that hold sensitive information, like online learning platforms which hold your personal data.

Don’t give out personal information to someone you’ve met online. Although this one might be a no-brainer, a reminder is always in order. Online courses are thoughtfully designed so that students can interact with each other via discussion boards, videoconferencing, and email. This is a good thing, but handing out personal information to people you’ve never actually met, no matter how well you think you know them, is never a good idea.

Avoid saving personal data on storage devices such as Google or Dropbox.
While cloud services such as Google Drive do take strong security measures to protect your data, privacy is not necessarily their strong suit. Google’s Terms of Service, for example, explicitly give them unlimited access to your personal data.

Install an antivirus (AV) program on your computer. Probably the single most important measure you can take to secure your digital privacy is to install antivirus software. You can get powerful free computer protection, like Reason Essential, that provides real-time, comprehensive security with tracking protection, webcam and microphone protection and much more. Without AV software, your password can be hacked, your bank account emptied, your computer hijacked, your personal identity stolen, etc.

Keep your software up-to-date. Always keep your AV program up-to-date. AV software rely on several detection methods and one is signature-based, which means that it uses a database of known signature viruses. If your AV software is not current, it might not catch newer viruses. Similarly, your operating system (OS) should be kept current as well. Hackers are always finding new and creative ways to exploit computer operating systems, so new versions must be released in order to patch security holes.

Stay safe on National Online Learning Day

National Online Learning Day rightfully celebrates the accomplishments in online learning and the people and technology behind these accomplishments, but it should also serve as a reminder of the growing cybersecurity threat. Don’t become one of the next 40 million students whose data and privacy is exposed because of a cyberattack. Make sure you stay safe online.

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