Editorial Team

The way we learn has changed dramatically over the past year as the pandemic outbreak forced many schools and educational institutions to find alternatives to physical classrooms. This resulted in an uptick in virtual classes as students started spending more time online, thus exposing themselves to higher risks on the web. Online scams succeed because they ride on people’s behavioural and emotional vulnerabilities and hence, sensitizing them on basic online safety protocols will contribute significantly to reducing risks and ensuring superior learning outcomes. A new study from McAfee Corp. (Nasdaq: MCFE) shows that 89% Indians believe schools should educate children on online safety. Of these, 62% believe that digital wellness and protection should have its own separate curriculum that is taught throughout grade school while 27% feel it should be integrated into technology subjects like IT.

The report further states that 81% of the people in India said that since last year, at least one member in their household started either full time or part time online learning via virtual platforms. In 34% of households, these learners fall between the age group of 18-24 years, followed by 29% between 13-18 years, 24% between 5-12 years, 21% between 25-35 years, 16% over 35 years, and 9% even under the age of 5. Given that a large young audience has adapted to virtual learning, there’s a greater need to ensure their online safety and it’s encouraging to know that 36% of the respondents who participate in distant learning, purchased new security/protection technology in India.

“As they turn to remote and e-learning, students today, are at a heightened risk of online threats as their time spent online increases and they adapt to newer tools. With students as well as teachers now operating from lesser controlled environments, the need to educate them on basics such as phishing, cyberbullying, and inculcating overall cybersecurity hygiene is imperative. Educational institutions must approach cybersecurity holistically, particularly now that technology pervades nearly every facet of a child’s life,” said Judith Bitterli, senior vice president of Consumer at McAfee. “As technology has transformed the educational sector, cybersecurity too must be part of the school curriculum, and entrenched in the way we teach, and the way we learn.”

As per McAfee’s Cloud Adoption and Risk Report – Work From Home Edition released in May last year, the education sector saw the second most increase in the amount of threat events in their cloud accounts for both internal and external threats. Dearth of awareness and weak policies governing the space makes the sector alarmingly susceptible to cyberthreats. For parents, some of the areas of concern when it comes to the increased connectedness of their kids are illegal content (55%), sharing personal information (53%), exposure to scams (53%), cyber-bullying (52%) and misinformation (49%). It is therefore important to maintain control over how their sensitive data is managed and shared inside and outside of the virtual classroom.

Here are some tips and to-dos to stay safe:

  • Don’t click all that you see – Despite knowing the sender, never click any kind of unsolicited links included in emails, text messages, or screen pop-ups. Ensure to scrutinize the email/text before you reply.
  • Don’t go overboard with sharing – Maximise privacy settings on all social profiles and engage in safe social networking. Steer clear of giving out too much personal information by deleting any post that involuntarily divulges personal data. Take into consideration removing the names of family members, school, hometown, and birthdays.
  • Access from home securely –  Use a VPN when children are accessing online learning services from home to protect the privacy of the internet connection with bank-level encryption to stop hackers stealing personal information like passwords or data.
  • Teach personal responsibility – With misinformation a major concern for many parents, it’s important for parents to educate their children about fake news and how to spot it. Ask children to question the content they read or watch online to determine if it is credible before making up their minds.
  • Discuss digital wellness round the dinner table – While it can sound like a boring topic, it’s important for families to regularly discuss online safety at home. Parents should talk to their children about how to spot a phishing scam, what to do if there’s been a data breach and how to have good digital wellness.
  • Strong, complex passwords – Strong passwords are critical, and hence, one must use complex catchphrases and combinations of letters, characters, and numbers. Prefer two-factor authentication to add an additional layer of protection between you and a potential attacker. As members of the family often share devices, it is critical that security software is present on all endpoints, minimising the risk of attack vectors.
  • Cautious information sharing – While learning online, there could be instances where children are required to exchange information with their peers. Ensure that any information shared online is not sensitive in nature. Using security tools with parental controls like McAfee® Safe Family on all internet-enabled devices helps to monitor children online in addition to having endpoint malware and data protection across all your devices.

Research methodology

McAfee commissioned MSI International to conduct a survey of over 1,000 adults in each country in April 2021, ages 18–75.

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