By: Travis Decaminada
Key Takeaway: An increase in time spent online, as a result of Covid-19, may leave children more vulnerable to security breaches, harassment, and even online predators.
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted the education of over 1.5 billion students worldwide. Many schools, especially in developed nations, have now reportedly made the shift from in-person to online education. Even though online education may not be ideal for all students, its existence is still a remarkable modern privilege. However, despite the benefits of online education, there are still reportedly serious risks and vulnerabilities that may arise. These risks can be particularly delicate given the involvement of children.
In the United States, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) released a brief report detailing how school districts can more safely manage online education, especially during video conferencing. CISA notes that bad actors, ranging from individuals to other state governments, routinely attempt to disrupt institutional networks and steal personal information. CISA also notes that some individuals even attempt to “zoom bomb” online classrooms. The San Diego Tribune reported on several such incidents in which an individual “hacked” into an online classroom and behaved obscenely. The aforementioned are not the only dangers parents and teachers need to be aware of.
Per UNICEF, children spending more time online as a result of Covid-19 may be at a higher risk for sexual exploitation. More time spent online, in addition to less adult supervision, may reportedly lead to more opportunities for online predators to exploit children. Worse, according to UNICEF, “A lack of face-to-face contact with friends and partners may lead to heightened risk-taking such as sending sexualized images, while increased and unstructured time online may expose children to potentially harmful and violent content…” Both UNICEF and CISA have outlined steps that parents and educators can take to keep kids safe.
Protecting Kids Online
According to UNICEF, governments and schools can help ensure that staff and social workers are trained to identify the signs of exploitation and know how to report suspected incidents. Tech companies, especially those working on educational tech, can take steps to ensure their products are extra secure. Finally, UNICEF recommends that parents rigorously monitor their kid’s online behavior, ensure their devices are up to date, and set firm rules and boundaries.
CISA recommends that school network administrators completely understand the products they oversee, including those products’ supply chains. They also recommend that proper security policies be put in place, and to make sure said policies explicitly address information security.
A major component of the CISA report focuses on video conferencing. The organization notes that special care must be taken when screen sharing during video conferences to ensure that sensitive information is not recklessly displayed. Participants reportedly should also be aware of what they have on display in their background. Lastly, CISA recommends that video conferences be password protected and that participants should be careful about sharing links.
As the world adapts to the digital age new challenges may arise, especially for kids.
This article was written in conjunction with Jessica Sims, Jake Stover, Jalen Dailey, Monica Monroy and Jordan Boyd, students studying risk management and insurance (RMI) at Old Dominion University (ODU). Contact Dr. Michael McShane for more information about ODU’s RMI Program.