Ten tips for keeping your school safe from cyberattacks and online scams

Cyber-attacks and online scams are a danger to us all. When it comes to attacks on schools, the outcome is magnified because the data of our colleagues, students and their parents could be at risk too. Thankfully, there is a lot you can do to fight online fraud.

To give you an idea of the areas where staff and students need some guidance, we’ve looked at the results of NatWest’s Safe and Secure survey – a national study that profiles the nation’s attitudes to online security. Combined with some quotes from world-renowned cyber security expert Mikko Hypponen, you can make sure your team (and your pupils) aware of the dangers and how to respond.

Top tips for keeping your school (and those in it) safe and secure online

1.    Avoid saving passwords to browsers

According to the survey, 53% of us save passwords to internet browsers. It might be convenient, but if a work device is lost or stolen a scammer can to get access to multiple online accounts with just one act of theft.

2.    Have a fraud action plan

In a recent story, brought to light by the BBC, a Durham Sixth Form centre was forced to pay a ransom after a cyber-attack. When you consider that 22% of people surveyed wouldn’t know what to do if they were ‘experiencing online security problems’ it’s important to train staff (and students) on how best to respond. For example, the fraud hotline details of your institution’s bank should be easily accessible and known to all.

3.  Don’t use one password for multiple accounts

With 41% of the people in the study admitting that they use one password for multiple accounts you can be sure this is a practice you need to advise against.

4. Encourage good password hygiene

Passwords should also include a mix of symbols, capitalisation and numbers to make them unpredictable. Your IT department has likely set your network up so that staff are required to change their passwords regularly. The reality is that such passwords can be hard to remember, so how does cyber security expert Mikko Hypponen approach this problem? Naturally, with a little technological help.

“Do not try to remember your passwords. Use a password manager. That’s the only way to have a unique and strong password in every service. This is what I do.” Whether this is a suitable solution for your team is something you’ll need to assess, but it’s something to consider.

5.  Don’t forget to update your work (and personal) devices

Your IT team may help you ensure essential security updates are installed on work mobiles and laptops, but what about the personal devices of your staff? It can be easy to swipe update reminders away, but if your team are allowed to connect their own devices to the school’s Wi-Fi network you’ll want to ensure these devices are secure too. When you consider that 22% of respondents didn’t know what security software was best for their device it’s likely that some of your staff’s personal devices are not secure.

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6. Young people need to review their privacy settings on social media

Young people overshare online, especially on social media. The habits of the survey’s youngest age group, 18 to 24, give us a good indication of the ideas and attitudes children are leaving school with as they go on to become students and employees.

In the national survey, 21% of all respondents who used the social media platform Snapchat admitted they hadn’t set strict privacy settings. The platform is known for its young user base so this statistic gives us a good indication that children need to get serious about online privacy.

7. Young people need advice on what sensitive information is

Few things are a sensitive as our bank details. Surprisingly, 13% of the young people surveyed said that they had shared their online banking password with someone, either online or in person.

8. Sharing any personal information online is a bad habit, even if you know the person

A huge 84% of young people said they feel comfortable sharing personal information with someone they know online. And for 69% of those aged 18 to 24, their date of birth was something they would share too. Many online scams involve fraudsters pretending to be a friend or family member, often using the information they’ve gleaned from other accounts. If children aren’t in the habit of sharing personal information at all it will make life harder for scammers.

9. Information posted online is not secure, so choose what you share wisely

Expert Mikko Hypponen profiles the reality of posting data on social media. “Never post anything online that you wouldn’t mind seeing posted on the cover of a newspaper. Even if you think your post is not visible to everyone, it could very well be.”

10. Keep up to date with latest attacks on schools or otherwise

Fraud is constantly changing, with new scams emerging all the time. Businesses are under attack as well as the individual. But with a well-trained team, educated pupils, and awareness of any new scams, your school can be ready to spot dangers and respond appropriately. Take a look at these relevant articles to keep yourself up to date.

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