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Steps to Mitigate Risk During A Remote Learning School Year

By Amanda Daly | Tuesday, September 1st, 2020

Out with the old and in with the new. The "new" classroom may be in the comfort of your own home for your children. As school systems are starting back up again, many of them are either fully remote or doing a hybrid schooling model. Either way, you and your children are going to be using more and more video conferencing and Internet. This could allow for a higher risk of cybersecurity, such as ransomware attacks with attackers exploiting remote connections. 
So how are you mitigating risk in this new remote learning environment? Here are some Zoom and Home Network Security Tips.

1. Security basics to consider when conducting a Zoom meeting

  • Avoid Public Links: Remember that a public meeting link is public, so don’t share it with anyone you don’t trust.
  • Personal Meeting IDs: The same goes for your Personal Meeting ID, which is essentially a personal phone number that people can “drop in” on at any time. Instead of your Personal Meeting ID, consider using a per-meeting ID that is exclusive to the single meeting.
  • Passwords: Always set up a password for participants to verify their entry before joining a meeting. Additionally, consider using two-factor authentication, which requires a generated code on a mobile app in addition to a Zoom username and password. This provides an additional layer of security since users will need access to their phone to sign in.
  • Waiting Rooms: Enabling the Waiting Room feature allows you to see who is trying to join the meeting before allowing access.
  • Screen Sharing: Set Screen Sharing to “Only Host” unless you specifically need to grant participants the option. Also consider using the “enable watermark when viewing the shared screen” feature to watermark your screen. You may also want to consider encouraging the use of virtual backgrounds so student’s learning environments are not shown.
  • Know the Controls: Before running your first Zoom meeting, become familiar with the Controls for Hosts and Managing Participants. Key controls include: Mute all Participants, Lock Meeting and Remove Participants. That way you can easily remove unwanted or disruptive participants, disable video for participants, and disable private chat.

2. Securing Your Home Network Tips

First off, adhere to the following advice and tips from our security experts to keep your home network safe from intruders:

  • Keep operating systems and applications up-to-date
  • Use an anti-malware solution on your endpoints, making sure all features are enabled and definitions are up-to-date
  • Use DNS filtering on your machines or set it up at the router level
  • Use full disk encryption on all devices if possible
  • Ensure wiring closets and ISP hand-off points are secured
  • Consider using MAC address filtering

Also, be mindful of your home network. Keep a close eye on who you allow on your home network, as malware can jump from device to device on your WiFi, and you don't know where others' devices have been. Having a guest WiFi account for your home wireless router can help mitigate these risks.

And as always, don't use default passwords for any device, whether it's a personal computer, WiFi network, or IoT device!

3. Pointers on Effective WiFi Management 

Speaking of WiFi, here are some pointers on how you can you manage your WiFi for complete protection:

  • Change the default username and password on your wireless router
  • Disable remote management
  • Use WPA2 or WPA3 for wireless traffic encryption
  • Use lengthy and complex wireless passwords
  • Disable WPS and UPnP
  • Keep separate networks for your computers, IoT devices, and guests
  •  Routinely monitor who is connected to your wireless network

4. Don’t forget to Protect your IoT Devices 

Hints to protect your devices at home:

  • Change default passwords on all IoT devices
  • Keep your IoT devices on a separate wireless network or VLAN
  • Restrict information sharing between IoT devices and 3rd party vendors
  • Use a firewall where possible, especially as hackers are seen to be intruding through less strong devices such as external cameras and smart doorbells 

5. Remember the Security Basics

All security best practices still apply. In fact, in the remote world now is the time where we should be even more vigilant! Don't forget all the cybersecurity training that you've received over the years.

Also, pay extra attention to authentication methods such as MFA. If prompted to approve a login, ensure that it was you that requested access.

Additional Considerations for Schools

Though school systems finished up their 2019-2020 year remote, this school year is different. Teachers are no longer preparing for the first day of school like they used to. This year, they are preparing to meet their student for the first time via Zoom. The sudden shift to remote learning has brought forward many challenges, including how to keep personal devices and home networks secure.

Something that the school districts should consider is ensuring password security. Changing passwords regularly is a best practice to mitigate the impact of password theft. Schools will also want to identify any potential gaps as remote learning brings unique security challenges to school districts. If teachers and students are logging in from home to use an application that is hosted locally on a school server, those connections need to be secure so that hackers can’t gain entry into district networks and or your own network. In some cases, students and educators may be using their personal devices from home rather than ones owned and encrypted by the district, giving easy access to attackers. Be sure that only approved apps run on the network and that only authorized devices can accessing the network. As more schools turn to cloud computing to communicate and collaborate beyond school walls, IT staff need to consider how they’re securing data shared over the cloud. To get a better sense of potential vulnerabilities, districts should consider a third-party risk assessment

Download our Rush to the Edge Guide to get actionable guidance on cloud, change configurations, onboarding/offboarding, third party risk management & work from home analytics.

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