In the modern era, students are constantly immersed in technology, with smartphones in their pockets and school laptops. While the internet offers valuable communication and learning opportunities, it also poses risks such as cyberbullying, identity theft, and online predators.
As children have increased access to these devices, it becomes crucial for governments, schools, educators, and parents to join forces in advocating robust internet safety for students. Through collaborative efforts, we can empower students with the necessary knowledge to safeguard themselves, and their data, and ensure a secure online environment.
The significance of Internet safety for students is paramount. Although contemplating the various risks associated with children using the internet can be overwhelming, there is good news—numerous rules and regulations are in place to ensure students’ online safety. Regulatory actions contribute significantly to protecting children online, but parents and guardians also play a crucial role in helping children acquire knowledge about internet safety.
Firstly, engaging in conversations with children about online expectations is essential. This involves setting boundaries on the amount of time they are allowed to spend on devices each day and specifying which sites and apps are permissible. Secondly, opting to keep computers and other devices in common areas facilitates easier monitoring by guardians, discouraging unsafe online behavior.
Additionally, parental controls prove beneficial, providing an extra layer of protection by monitoring, filtering, and restricting access to questionable content.
Critical Aspects of Ensuring Students’ Online Safety
Considering that school districts and their students are attractive targets for threat actors, schools must prioritize several core aspects of internet safety. Specifically, schools have a vital role to play in:
- Preventing access to inappropriate or harmful digital content;
- Helping students form smart security habits when using email, social media, chat, messaging, forums, or other communication forms; and
- Restricting unauthorized access to systems, such as hacking.
As children increasingly use internet-connected devices for everything from communicating with friends to completing schoolwork, they should be aware of a handful of critical risks.
Being Mindful of Their Digital Footprint
Students should consider their digital footprint as the trail they leave behind in everything they do online, from the websites they visit to the content they post on social sites like Instagram or TikTok. Online activity often “lives” forever, making it challenging, if not impossible, to remove information from the internet later. This raises privacy concerns and can make an individual susceptible to receiving unwanted or inappropriate content. Helping kids understand and use privacy settings, maintaining a list of accounts (and encouraging them to delete unused ones), and being mindful of what they publish are all excellent ways to manage a digital footprint.
Maintaining Good Password Hygiene
More than 30% of cyberattacks against educational institutions involved the use of stolen credentials. Crafty threat actors have various methods of stealing and compromising passwords, such as through social engineering attacks, password spraying, and brute force attacks, among others. Choosing unique, hard-to-guess passwords for apps and sites is imperative, as is knowing how to spot the signs of common attacker tactics like phishing.
Identifying reputable websites and apps isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Today, cybercriminals have plenty of tools to craft trustworthy-looking communications, such as fake websites and emails designed to steal data and funds from unsuspecting users. Talk to children about how to spot a potentially malicious website or email and encourage them to communicate their concerns to an adult.
Just as a fake website can be hard to recognize, identifying an online predator is often equally challenging. That’s why children must be cautious about whom they interact with on digital platforms and avoid sharing any personal information.
By Doros Hadjizenonos, Regional Director, Southern Africa, Fortinet