The recent pandemic, COVID-19 has changed our views on a lot of things. How we eat, how we roam or explore, how we do our offices and even how we continue our education. The last one, our way of approaching academia during these uncertain days has seen a drastic change. More and more online classes and digital learning are taking place than ever. Teachers who have never taken online education seriously are forced to take online classes. Students of all ranges, starting from kindergarten to universities are joining regularly online for study purposes. And this raises a new concern, are all of these interactions and teaching happening online secured? How to address the new issue of cyber security in Edtech?
The idea of online learning and evaluation was already there. Several edtech companies and learning apps were investing heavily towards this future of education systems. Nonprofits like Khan Academy also showed how much potential it has and how popular it can be. Even back in 2019, when the crazy 2020 was yet to begin, worldwide the Edtech sector saw a huge investment of $18.66 Billion. However, the biggest boost came from the unwanted pandemic situation. According to a report from the World Economic Forum over 1.2 billion children from 186 countries are out of their classrooms globally. Now, it is estimated to increase almost 20 times of 2019’s investment and become an international market of $350 Billion.
Though there is evidence that learning online is efficacious for some, and students tend to learn more digitally when compared to traditional classroom settings, it is only applicable for those who have access to the right technology. Unfortunately, it is not the case for everyone, especially for those coming from underprivileged backgrounds. The same is true for the teachers as well. Some senior teachers are simply not familiar with the idea of online teaching in the first place. In addition, it is simply difficult for an average education institute to spend much on their IT or cyber security. The combination makes the suddenly boomed online education sector prone to cyber attacks in various forms. In fact, the education sector is now one of the most target sectors for cyber criminals.
The rate of cyber attacks on educational institutions is on the rise, incidents are happening all around the world. The University of Calgary reportedly had to pay a ransom of CAD 20K to a ransomware attack. In February 2021 Simon Fraser University in Canada announced that they had a breach in their server and almost 200,000 people might be affected by it. In the United States, a school district in Minnesota had to shut down the whole system for an entire day and rebuild it due to a cyber attack.
The famous cloud computing provider Blackbaud was the victim of a cyber attack that affected some big names in the UK including the University of Leeds, University of London, University College, Oxford etc which was confirmed by BBC in July 2020.
Now the obvious question arises, why are education institutes being targeted so frequently? Why are they usually vulnerable to a cyber attack? Below are some reasons.
Scarcity in resources or budget:
It’s no surprise that cyber security might be one of the least focused sectors in a common educational institute. There are a lot of sectors to look at but the resources are limited. So the IT sector sees the budget cut and makes it vulnerable to a potential cyber attack.
No fixed policy for IT:
Due to the lack of finances to invest in cyber security, normally there is a shortage of software and staff. This results in the failure of implementation of a strong policy for using the network safely and securely. Without proper expertise, this type of policy is often very difficult to design in the first place let alone implement. As a result, often institutions are run without proper policies.
Few common practices:
In most cases, users in an educational institute bring their own devices. The IT personnel are already shorthanded and with this type of open, public PCs everywhere, they face an even more difficult situation to make this vast network secure.
Cyber attacks in educational institutes have seen an uprise recently. Many educational institutions are becoming easy target for cyber criminals. So, it’s essential now that we turn our focus into cyber security in Edtech.