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Opinion: The cybersecurity impact on students

Explore how the growth of the digital world affects students around the globe.
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/mattchengg/" target="_self">Matthew Cheng</a>

Matthew Cheng

August 1, 2022
In the past decade, technology has progressed and its advancement can be felt even in the educational sector. Whether it be iPhones, iPads or Chromebooks, a majority of students use the internet to turn in their homework assignments on Google Classroom, check their grades on Aeries and access educational content on YouTube.

Schools soon began to use the presence of technology as a crutch to rely on. With the coronavirus threatening the health and safety of toddlers in kindergarten to young adults in college, video platforms like Zoom and Google Meets enable students to participate in class from the comfort of their bedrooms. Although technology revolutionized the traditional classroom setting, it also exposed students to potential cyberattacks.

While browsing the web, many students are unprepared for malware attacks that may target their personal devices. You may be wondering, “what is a malware attack?” or “how do they steal our data?”

In Layman’s terms, malware attacks threaten a person’s security by accessing and corrupting their personal information stored in computer systems. There are different ways for hackers to perform this task: Phishing attacks and viruses are only two of many.

Since students are unaware of the deception of the internet, their gullibility makes them an easy target for online threats. To prevent youth from falling into these traps, it is important to understand that what goes on on the internet stays on the internet. Thinking that posting is only “temporary,” many teens release inappropriate photos or messages onto the web, which may eventually be used against them. 

Not only are teens easily lured by hackers, but school districts also face the same struggles. Unlike conglomerate companies, which have high levels of security that guard their private information, schools are generally less protected in the digital realm. If schools were to purchase a cybersecurity insurance plan, their students’ information would be monitored and more protected, and they would also be financially covered if a cyberattack were to occur.

However, since cybersecurity awareness is a relatively new topic, schools pour their money into the education and sports fields instead of the cybersecurity sector. In addition to having no cybersecurity insurance plan, administrators and teachers are unable to receive proper training, which leaves the school more vulnerable. This then endangers the privacy of the staff, students and the financial security of schools.  

As the pandemic forced schools to switch to a digital platform, there were numerous incidents where breaches in the system forced schools to cancel classes or pay unnecessary fees in return for their stolen data.

For one, in summer 2021, Michigan State University’s online shop was under cyberattacks, which leaked students’ credit card information. Another example was in the University of San Francisco where their servers were hit by the NetWalker virus. The NetWalker virus, a strain of malware that encrypts data and demands a payment in exchange for decrypting the data, forced the school to pay $1.1 million in return.

It is evident that cyberattacks in schools have become more common and will continue to do so due to a lack of awareness. Not only do these attacks financially damage school systems, but even worse, it risks the safety of students who trust their schools to keep their data secure.

To stop hackers from causing more damage, it is crucial for schools to provide proper training on how to avoid suspicious links and websites or even add more authentication systems.

In essence, with schools increasing their budget on cybersecurity, they will be killing two birds with one stone by preventing the schools from having to pay out their hackers and most importantly, protecting the relationship with their students