Laptops for Students: Better Access, More Risks

August 17th, 2020
Laptops for Students

Even before remote learning reached an all-time high in 2020, students were using laptops in the classroom more and more. They offer students a powerful combination of important technological tools and portability. Pre-pandemic, many schools were incorporating them into classroom learning, offering more efficient note-taking new, flexible methods of communication, and more.

Laptops and distance learning

The switch to remote learning was sudden, and most of us weren’t ready for it. Classrooms suddenly became virtual, with Zoom or Google Meet taking the place of traditional face to face learning. This transition ran into unanticipated issues of access that predated the outbreak – do the students have their own device at home to work on? Is their internet access strong enough to handle remote learning?

Children on the internet are already both highly at risk to predatory threats, but also a threat vector themselves, often not aware of cybersecurity risks they may encounter online. Clicking on bad links, engaging in unsafe browsing, even being more susceptible to treacherous bad actors online trying to steal passwords or other private information – the more a young person is online, the more risk they incur.

Add to this a laptop shortage during COVID. For many parents with multiple children engaging with teachers simultaneously, this meant giving access to a work laptop for their child to learn on. Now, in the best of times, we know that allowing someone else to work on you employer-owned device is a bad idea. It opens the machine up to security risks it might not otherwise be exposed to. But make that new user a child and the opportunities for bad results explode.

How to ensure students using laptops stay safe

Many of the challenges students on laptops and other digital devices face are very similar to those in work environments. Special care and consideration must take place because the person at the keyboard is a child, but the risks, and the solutions to those risks, are clear.

1. Make sure sharing information is safe

So much information educational institutions hold are valuable to attackers. Personal data, not just on the students themselves, but also teachers, parents, and more are all tempting targets for hackers. Having protections in place like encryption is key. Secure access for those who need it – and blocking those who don’t – is imperative.

2. Watch the apps

Students are prone to downloading the apps they love to use onto their devices, regardless of if the device is for school – or even their device at all, in the case of using a parent’s laptop for remote learning. Whitelisting the apps allowed and blocking the apps you don’t will help keep your student – and their data – safe online.

3. Malware, everywhere

Whether they’re responsibly researching online for a project or taking a break and reading up on a pop culture website between assignments, students are at risk to malware wherever they go online. Powerful anti-malware protection will keep them safe even when they don’t know they’re at risk. Keep antivirus/anti-malware software up to date to protect against the latest threats – or better yet, find one, like Sophos Home, that can identify never-before-seen threats before they infect your student’s computer.

4. Monitor their content

It’s important to enable students independence to learn using digital devices like laptops, but that doesn’t mean we can’t create a barrier against active threats. A strong cybersecurity solution with web filtering can block cyberbullying, inappropriate content, abuse, and other online threats.

5. Educate students on phishing and other risks

Because of the valuable nature of educational data, phishing attacks are a major risk to schools, and even more so the more time students spend on their computers. (And to be fair, teachers and parents are just as susceptible to the social engineering threats of phishing.) Make sure students know what to look for to spot when they’re being manipulated into sharing information that should remain private.

The right controls for student devices

Powerful cybersecurity software like Sophos Home can help manage where students travel online. Block sites that offer harmful content, manage access to social networking sites, and protect against the phishing sites and online scams students can encounter on the internet. Specifically, Sophos Home’s parental web filtering lets you control potentially inappropriate content students see online. Plus, all URLs students access will be checked against data maintained by industry experts and deny access if the site has been flagged as harmful.

Learning, both in person and remotely, using tools like laptops can bring new, dynamic options to students. Rather than deny them these learning tools, using the right solution to keep those tools safe can expand their learning experience rather than inhibit it.

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