It is apparent that technology is increasingly being incorporated and utilised in education. To date, nearly all schools probably have their own websites on which they share information about what they offer and also disseminate any timely notices. Adding to that would also be online various portals offering more specific services for staff and students. Not to be forgotten would also be the online learning platforms officially used by schools like the Student Learning Space rolled out by the Ministry of Education (MOE) in 2018, or other third-party learning management systems and solutions. More recently, the usage of video-conferencing platforms by schools has skyrocketed because of necessary COVID-19 measures put in place to break the chain of transmission.
The sometimes unseen problem is that each additional integration of technology essentially adds to the count of available attack vectors for mischievous malicious lone actors as well as seriously deadly state-sponsored threats. In April 2020, hackers hijacked the streaming of a home-based learning lesson conducted on the video conferencing platform Zoom to show obscene pictures to the students. But more critically, online web systems are a rich source of vulnerabilities and their high value for being linked to educational institutions makes them even more attractive targets for exploitation. The 2017 incident of sophisticated attacks against and undetected breaches into the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) for the presumed intention of stealing government secrets as well as commercially valuable research is a grim reminder of the ever-lurking threat that plagues any use of technology. It is worrying to think about the amount of attacks that could possibly have already taken place but went unnoticed.
Hence, there is really no room to neglect cybersecurity. The MOE is acutely aware of this need to be secured and prepared against the latest ever-changing threats. School websites have already been migrated to the Whole-of-Government Content Websites Platform since December 2016 in order to have a more centralised management of the infrastructure design and the administration of sufficient cybersecurity controls of these websites. Likewise, for the MOE’s Student Learning Space, security measures like strong password requirements as well as frequent cybersecurity audits have been put in place. As for video conferencing platforms, immediately after the Zoom hijacking incident, the MOE called for a precautionary halt to its use in educational settings. Thereafter, the use of Zoom was progressively allowed after the MOE had worked closely with Zoom to harden default security settings and also restrict unnecessary features that could be misused. Educators were also thoroughly brief on the new settings as well as how to safely use them. There has also been ongoing effort to expand this education on cybersecurity to parents and students through the issuing of guides, training videos, and webinars. This is essentially part of the already-existing Cyber Wellness Education initiative.
Apart from security regarding the online tools and platforms, we should also be mindful of and responsible with our own personal data and information and its use in cyberspace Data privacy is of vital importance because our personal and possibly sensitive data is often harvested by companies both in explicit and implicit ways. If these were to end up in the wrong hands due to a data breach and leak, it could spell disaster. Stolen accounts, financial fraud, and identity theft are just some of the few issues that could ensue. Even in the situation of no breaches occurring, we should also still be wary of what information data brokers could possibly collect about us and sell for targeted marketing purposes. The accuracy of the profile they can construct based on data collected is sometimes outright frightening. So, how should we be aware and responsible?
Passwords: Everyone knows what they are, everyone has some sort of those, but how many actually adhere to good password practices? First, never use repeated passwords across different websites, platforms and devices. But then this might trigger the thought: how would I remember all the different unique passwords then? Human memory is understood to not always be reliable and forgetting passwords is an age-old issue. Password managers thus come into play. This does not refer to the insecure old-school method of penning down combinations onto a notebook or pasting written post-its onto your devices; rather, it is the usage of reasonably trusted and secure applications like 1Password, Bitwarden, LastPass, or KeePass to store passwords and even generate robust passwords if you wish to.
Services: It is also wise to subscribe to a notification service like haveibeenpwned.com to alert you of the latest security breaches so that you can immediately take action to fortify affected accounts. The website also allows you to check whether any of your email addresses have been previously implicated. This is also sometimes helpful in informing you about breached accounts that you have signed up for a long time ago but have forgotten about it.
SHHH: We also should not liberally give out our personal information even if it appears to be harmless at the moment. This could mean our full first name and last name, home address, mobile numbers, or even our NRIC number. Beware of promotions giving out free samples or items in return for you to fill out forms because chances are “if you’re not paying for the product, you are the product”.
FamilyTutor wishes that you stay secure in cyberspace. Happy surfing!
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