Another school year is ready to kick off, if it hasn’t started in your region already. Most kids are eagerly waiting to find out which of their friends will be in their class, and hoping they got the “nice” teacher. School supply lists are cropping up in stores, where the aisles are filled with shiny new notebooks and lunchboxes.
But someone else is just as eager for a new school year to start: hackers, scammers, online predators, and identity thieves. With so much digitization involving students as young as preschool, a new school year means a wealth of new online data to be snapped up.
Schools around the country have made the leap to technology-based administration and instruction. You may have received your school supply list via a Facebook page for your child’s school, and you may have received emails or text messages with important updates on the school year. A lot of parents will register their kids via an online portal—no more thick packets of papers to fill out on the first day of school!—and many schools have even adopted an online payment portal for adding funds to your child’s lunch account.
All of this innovation saves time and prevents mix ups, but it can also mean more and more opportunities for someone to invade your family’s privacy. Here are some tips for safeguarding your cybersecurity as you head into a new school year:
1. Watch what information you enter
For most parents, the online registration process is a great feature. Just remember that all of your family’s information may be required, from birth dates to addresses to Social Security numbers. Many online portals are built with a feature that lets you opt out of things like inputting the SSN, and that’s a good idea. If you have any doubts about the security of the portal, contact your school system and find out how they protect the data.
2. Check before you pay
It doesn’t matter who’s asking for your credit card or bank card number, whether it’s an online shopping site or your child’s school. If you don’t see an HTTPS designation at the beginning of the web address, then you can’t be sure the website is secure enough to enter your account number. Always look for the security designation before you pay for school fees, lunch accounts, or other related expenses.
3. BYOD vs Technology
Many schools have adopted technology in the classroom, and it’s a sure sign that our students are being prepared for a 21st century education. But there are different ways schools can implement this greater focus on technology. Most schools either issue school-owned laptops, Chromebooks, or tablets, or they choose to adopt a Bring Your Own Device policy that uses the students’ own hardware in the classroom. There will be strict rules about how students must use the device—no matter who actually owns it—in the classroom, but make sure your student knows how to follow those rules and how to keep himself safe when using it at home.
4. Be careful of the school network
If your student’s school has Wi-Fi, they should have pretty rigid filters and malware protections in place. Since you can’t know that, though, be aware that a device your child uses on the school’s network and then brings home to use on your private network can infect your computers. Talk to your child about only visiting trusted websites and make sure you’re keeping your family’s antivirus and antimalware protection up-to-date on all of the computers or devices.
5. Keep the conversation going
Only a few years ago, parents were cautioned to keep the family computer in the living room where parents could easily monitor how it was being used. Now, with smartphones, tablets, and laptops, it’s not quite as easy to see what your kids are doing online at all times. That’s why it’s absolutely vital that you talk to your kids about internet safety, scams, cyberbullying, online predators, and other dangerous issues. Make sure they understand they can come to you and ask you anything, no matter where they may have found it; there are sites that actively seek to lure kids in with seemingly innocent content, so keep that in mind when addressing kids’ internet mistakes.
Anyone can be a victim of identity theft, anyone can use our services, and anyone can help us help others. If you found this information useful, please consider donating to the Identity Theft Resource Center to help us keep our services free to the public.