National Online Learning Day: learning your cybersecurity lesson

Observed every September 15, National Online Learning Day was established in 2016 as a way to recognize the potential, advantages, and accomplishments of online learning. Not to be confused with distance learning, which got its start back in the late 1800s, online learning got its start with the beginning of online college courses in the1980s. Forty years later, online learning is stronger than ever.  And while it’s experienced substantial growth over the last decade even prior to COVID-19, since the pandemic, that growth has been stratospheric.

COVID-19 and the rise of online learning

Indeed, thanks to COVID-19, online learning is the new norm for many students today. As a result of the pandemic, education authorities around the world have implemented plans to ensure continued learning via online classes for kindergarten through 12th grade, and there have been massive increases in the number of open online courses available from universities and e-learning platforms. In addition, online instruction at graduate and undergraduate schools has seen a sharp rise too. About ⅓ of the graduate institutions in the US said they would be offering a mix of in-person and online classes while 13% were planning to offer online instruction only. What this all adds up to is a massive surge in the global online learning market which is poised to grow by $93.64 billion between 2020-2024. Without a doubt, this pandemic has accelerated the growth of online learning at an unimaginable rate. 

Yet, while COVID-19 certainly was a catalyst for greater online learning, there are other more positive reasons for its growth too. For example, online learning is more flexible and accessible, as it allows students to take classes at times that better suit their schedule and from the location of their choice. It’s also a more affordable option than the traditional choices of living on campus or commuting. Even the cost of materials can be considerably lower with online learning. Lastly, many online learning platforms use machine learning algorithms to analyze user data in order to offer more personalized content. 

It’s not a one-way street

Unfortunately, it’s not just online learning that’s received a boost from COVID-19, however. Cyber criminals have also received a boost. They quickly took advantage of the pandemic so they could profit from the public’s fear of COVID-19 and their need for information. For example, cyber criminals have been sending out emails that claim to offer information about the pandemic, but which actually contain malicious links and attachments. They’ve also created websites and apps that claim to track COVID-19 cases, but will infect your systems when you visit or download them. In addition, cyber criminals have been sending phishing emails that ask you to provide personal and sensitive information in return for government stimulus checks or other attractive corona-related offers. The increase in cyberattacks since the pandemic is truly alarming: According to businesswire.com, cybersecurity professionals have seen a 63% increase in cyberattacks related to the pandemic with cyber attacks spiking to nearly one million a day during the first week of March. 

Learning your cybersecurity lesson

A good lesson to learn from this, whether you’re learning online or in the classroom, is that personal and business devices must be protected. This means that your software should always be up to date, your passwords should be secure, and an antivirus solution should be installed on your personal device, or a reputable endpoint solution installed on your business devices. These precautions are your first and most powerful line of defense. Without them, you are vulnerable to cyber attacks. 

Unfortunately, even with the tremendous risk posed by cyber attacks, many people and businesses continue to worry about the effects an antivirus solution can have on a computer’s performance and thus hesitate to install one. ‘Can an antivirus slow down computers?’ is a commonly asked question and gives us a glimpse into why users are reluctant to install an antivirus solution. The answer is abundantly clear, though: The threat of malware should far outweigh any concerns about a solution’s impact on performance, especially when there are measures you can take to minimize its effect, such as making sure you have adequate memory or scheduling scans at times when you are less likely to be using your system. 

A day in the sun is fine as long as you have protection

Online learning may be having its day in the sun thanks to COVID-19, but that doesn’t mean you need to participate without protection. In the same way that you wouldn’t go out in the sun without sunblock (we hope), you shouldn’t join online classes without protection either. Your devices urgently need some ‘malware block’ like the cybersecurity measures listed above.