WatchGuard Blog

Keeping safe online

Technology has always played its part in education – but mainly in schools and classrooms. The last 12 months have changed this and the sudden need to shift to remote learning has put technology at the very heart of delivering continuity in teaching to reduce the impact of COVID-19. According to the World Bank, 1.6 billion students were out of school during the first peak of the pandemic in April 2020, and almost 700 million remained out as 2020 drew to a close.

Simply trying to make sure as many families as possible have access to computers and broadband has been and remains a challenge that has exposed the digital divide. Meanwhile, teachers and schools have had a crash course in delivering lessons online without that special classroom relationship that is impossible to duplicate on Zoom or other platforms.

Careful what you look for

Getting remote teaching up and running was the first priority – but then there is a question of security. Schools have a duty of care to protect pupils from accessing inappropriate content while also protecting home computing devices and school networks from malicious attacks. No mean feat with the wide range of mainly personal and unmanaged computers, tablets and mobile phones being used in homes across the country to access the network. These devices may also be shared with other family members, so if they are compromised, or already infected with malware and then reconnected into the school environment, that could lead to a serious threat.

With many more hours spent online both for learning and passing the endless hours of lockdown, it’s all too easy to browse and land on web sites hosting inappropriate content – either deliberately or accidentally. Then there is the problem of children or adults clicking on phishing links and being taken to malicious sites aimed at stealing user credentials or downloading malware onto the device. As well as presenting a threat to families, these actions could also provide a backdoor to the school network to install ransomware, for example.

We are all getting better at spotting a suspicious email and research shows that good phishing education programmes can reduce click rates on malicious links from 40-50% down to below 10%, yet children are less savvy or suspicious.  And as pupils and students become increasingly disparate and outside of the school or college network without the guidance of teachers and peers-groups, the challenge is compounded.

That’s why technologies such as WatchGuard’s DNSWatchGO can provide vital help. It automatically detects and blocks phishing attacks and data exfiltration attempts as well as providing domain-level protection and content filtering to protect users from going to the wrong sites – regardless of their location. As a fully cloud-based solution, DNSWatchGO doesn’t require any hardware or manual software updates on the end user device and policies can be managed for all users.

It’s not just websites that can be a problem. Children like to download new apps or games. WatchGuard’s endpoint Zero-Trust Application Service enables continuous monitoring, detection and classification of all activity to reveal and block anomalous behaviours of users, applications and processes.

Password test

In many instances, students or teaching staff need to access sensitive information or personal content. Simple passwords can be guessed or stolen and despite good intentions, we all struggle with remembering a multitude of long, complex and secure passwords.

This can be overcome with multi-factor authentication (MFA) that requires more than one method of authentication to verify the user's identity. For education, traditional MFA solutions are expensive and complex. The answer again lies in the cloud. Cloud-based MFA requires no on-premise equipment, which cuts down on costly deployment and management; while modern authentication methods, including one-time-passwords or QR codes sent to a mobile device, provide good security and a simple user experience. It is likely that some level of remote education will be here to stay. Therefore, it is important that security is a priority to keep everyone and every place safe online.

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