As more and more schools opt for technology; several challenges are cropping up. A major challenge is that of security, particularly student data and network security. Digitization of schools has multiplied the risk of unauthorized access to sensitive information, such as exam papers and students’ personal details. Use of technology, in particular, the Internet, makes it easier for hackers to gain unauthorized access to student data and other confidential records.
It’s essential that both schools and teachers tackle the challenge of network security.
Who hacks a school network and Why do they do it
School networks are at risk from a number of individuals- People, who have an interest in school systems, like students, staff and parents, and people who breach digital networks simply to prove that they can be hacked.
Students usually hack into school networks to change grades and access test papers; some have even done it to change testing schedules. Parents have been caught changing their children’s grades too. In 2012, a parent was found to have hacked into district’s computer systems to change the grades of her kids; she was a former employee and used the superintendent’s passwords to change her children’s grades and hack into personal files.
5 Top network security strategies for your school
1. Control Physical Access
There’s no need to make it easy for people to hack into your network by forgetting to control physical access.
Make sure that only approved personnel can access school computers. Keep your devices in rooms that could be locked; this applies to both, staff computers and the computers for student use. Staff computers must be kept in rooms that can be accessed by authorized personnel only.
Anyone, including the staff that does not need it, should not be able to access school computers.
Several schools often use master keys for classrooms and offices. Anyone with a master key can gain access to computers kept there; it is essential to change the locks of such rooms, especially if they house devices connected to the server and have access to sensitive student data.
2. Make the Most of Passwords
This is probably the most common piece of security advice, but it still stands as the most important [and neglected] one: Practice good password habits. Poor password habits only make it easier for hackers to breach your network.
The following proper password habits should be used by staff and students alike
- Don’t use passwords such as “123456” or “password”
- Don’t use your personal information as passwords (It includes your pets’ names, your birthday and the name of your loved ones)
- Don’t use the same password for all your accounts
- Never ever share your passwords
- Use at least eight characters
- Use a combination of symbols, numbers, uppercase letters and lowercase letters;
- Use passphrases
- Change your passwords often (All of them.)
- Better yet, configure your devices to force users to change their passwords regularly
- Ensure that every staff member has their own account and password
- Delete the accounts of staff members who leave school
- Add password requirements, such as those mentioned above, to your school’s acceptable use policy (AUP).
Here is some more help from The Wire.
Check if your software allows two-factor authentication, you should consider implementing it.
Two-factor authentication requires users to provide two pieces of login information, usually a password and a one-time pin (OTP). It may take a little longer, but it’s much more secure than the usual – password only – options.
3. Use Anti-Virus Software
Another common piece of advice by network security experts is to install and use anti-virus software. As is the case with strong passwords, it still sticks.
Anti-virus software protects your network from cyberattacks by preventing, detecting and deleting malware. Malwares are malicious software that can slow down your digital devices and harm the school network; they can also steal sensitive information from your network.
Ensure that every school computer has anti-virus software installed on it.
Digital devices, especially those connected with the Internet should be scanned regularly for viruses. New forms of malware are created all the time, and regular updates can ensure that they are identified and dealt with efficiently, and before they get a chance to damage the school network.
It’s vital that you keep the school’s anti-virus software up-to-date.
4. Use a Virtual Private Network
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a type of network technology that creates a private network over public networks. A dependable VPN encrypts all the data that users send and receive. This ensures that hackers cannot gain access to sensitive data.
Most schools use networks very similar to a public WiFi network. Students and teachers can connect without physically plugging in their devices; and teachers and administrators can access it remotely via the Internet. This makes it easier for hackers to breach it. All one needs is user name and password, and they can easily breach your network.
Use of VPN also secures out-of-school connections, such as teachers working at home, or administrators at a district meeting; it ensures that any access from a remote device remains safe.
Some schools have WiFi for students and staff to use; however, public WiFi isn’t a particularly secure connection; hackers can use this it to access the school network. A VPN can help keep hackers from exploiting security flaws in your WiFi network.
Given the large number of people who connect with the Internet via school computers, a VPN could be crucial to your network security system.
5. Use Firewalls
A firewall is software or a device that screens all the information that a computer receives from the Internet and prevents malware and hackers from getting into the computers. It essentially creates a barrier between your school’s internal network and the Internet, and authorizes only safe traffic to pass through the barrier.
There are many firewall products available; however, it’s better to get experts to assess your school’s digital system and select the firewall technology that’s suitable for your school. This is probably the most sensible way to ensure that your school has a strong firewall protection.
Network security should be labeled as important as digitizing your school’s infrastructure. With all the sensitive information that teachers have access to, it’s essential that schools do everything they can to protect their school’s digital network.
How do you protect your school network? What measures have you taken to ensure network security? Please tell us about them in the comments section.
About the Author
Cassie is a technology blogger with a special interest in online security. She believes that technology is a wonderful way to help students learn and hopes that the ideas she’s discussed will help you use technology to its full potential while keep your school and its children safe.