Privacy & Security

Cybersecurity Training for Educators Lagging Behind Rising Risk of Cyberattacks

By Alyson Klein — February 08, 2021 2 min read
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With almost 80 percent of K-12 and college-level educators reporting that they are using some sort of online learning platform during the pandemic, keeping virtual classrooms secure seems more important and difficult than ever.

But 44 percent of K-12 and college educators say they haven’t received basic cybersecurity training, and another 8 percent were unsure if they had been trained at all. That’s according to an October 2020 survey by Morning Consult on behalf of IBM, a technology company.

The survey also found that nearly half of K-12 and college educators–46 percent–aren’t familiar with “Zoom-raiding” or “video bombing”, which is when an outsider interrupts an online lesson, sometimes using racial slurs or sexually-charged language or images.

That finding is despite the fact that many educators teaching in full-time remote or hybrid learning environments have experienced the problem. Nearly a quarter of those surveyed–22 percent–say at least one of their colleagues has experienced some security-related issues during the pandemic.

What is especially problematic from a cybersecurity perspective is that more than half of K-12 educators, 54 percent, report using their own personal computing devices for remote learning. Such devices tend to lack the same level of cybersecurity protections as school-issued computers.

What is also troubling is that more more than a third of K-12 educators say their districts have not provided any guidelines or resources to help better protect the devices they are using for virtual teaching.

Schools are prime targets of cyberattacks

Yet schools are among the institutions most likely to be targeted by hackers during this period of heightened attention on cybersecurity threats, Richard DeMillo, interim chair of the School of Cybersecurity and Privacy at the Georgia Institute of Technology, told Education Week in a November interview.

Public institutions that have a strong motivation to protect their data are always at a higher risk, and the pandemic has increased that risk because far more school activity is occurring using digital tools.

“It’s not that the threats are changing, it’s that the risks are growing,” DeMillo said. “You should assume the more you’re doing online, the more the risks have gone up, the more serious the consequences would be if there were a serious breach.”

Overall, the IBM/Morning Consult survey found that about half of K-12 and college educators, 47 percent, are worried that their institution could be the victim of a cyberattack. Another 50 percent of educators say they aren’t very concerned, or aren’t concerned at all.

Educators are more likely to worry about external sources–such as cyber criminals– causing an attack than students. Fifty-seven percent of educators say they are “very” or “somewhat concerned” that cybercriminals could attack their institution or district, compared with 39 percent who felt the same about students.

The survey was conducted from Oct. 15 to 22 and included 1,000 K-12 and college educators, plus 200 K-12 and post-secondary education administrators. It has a margin of error of 3 points for educators, and 7 points for administrators.

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