The digital risks that schools should know in 2018

by James Reid11 Jan 2018
Many of the most popular educational gadgets are internet connected devices which are transforming the way society teaches and learns. Unfortunately, with these devices come more security threats – some surprisingly sinister.

Nick FitzGerald, senior research fellow at ESET, a global IT firm based in Slovakia, said that in 2018, classrooms will be connected more than ever before, with online devices often requiring “always-on connections”.

“It is important for teachers, parents and students to understand the risks involved, and how to use these products safely,” FitzGerald told The Educator.

“As our lives become increasingly connected, and with students able to access educational resources on a range of devices, teachers are responsible for ensuring students know how to use these devices in a safe manner, not only in the classroom, but in everyday life.”

FitzGerald said that in order to teach students best practice, teachers themselves must be aware of the risks that connected devices pose.
 
Voice assistants
 
Cloud services such as Google’s ‘G-Suite’ and ‘Classroom’ are used by over 70 million educators worldwide. The next evolution of this technology is voice assistant devices which scour the web to find answers to students’ questions.

These services are also slated to be included on Chromebooks, a popular choice of laptop for students.

“As their popularity grows and they are integrated into more classroom activities, educators will need to be aware of the risks of using such technology and how to best mitigate them,” FitzGerald said.

“Voice assistants use microphones that listen for specific catchphrases to activate. There have already been reports of hackers finding ways to take control of a number of these devices, effectively turning them into wiretaps, potentially exposing your most private conversations.”

FitzGerald said that teachers should take care to make sure connected devices are muted or turned off when not in use and ensure that parental controls are enabled.

“Further, parents should be informed of what technologies are being used in the classroom, along with safety precautions for any at-home use,” he said.
 
‘Smart toys’
 
‘Smart toys’ have long been used in the classroom to stimulate visual and kinaesthetic learning. For example, the Anki Cosmo robot integrates with an app where students can program code to make the robot respond to different scenarios.

FitzGerald said that educators should ensure they conduct research before considering a connected toy or other device for classroom use.

“There have already been several high-profile reports of smart toy vulnerabilities including ‘smart teddy bears’ being hacked and weaponised,” FitzGerald said.

“In 2017, Germany banned some dolls and robots, and some child-oriented smart watches, because of their potential misuse as spying devices.”

For educators considering a ‘smart’ or ‘connected’ device for the classroom, ESET recommends conducting four searches online:
  • Device name security vulnerability
  • Device brand name security vulnerability
  • Device brand name privacy breach
  • Device brand name data leak

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