What IT admins and district leaders can do to help parents safeguard their home internet.
GUEST COLUMN | by Timur Kovalev
Almost all school districts in America have or are transitioning to full remote working and teaching environments. We are in a paradigm shift as education and government leaders transform in-classroom curriculums to video-based lessons and self-direction through homeschooling.
To add to the already mounting feeling of anxiety and uncertainty, on March 18, 2020 California Governor Gavin Newsom delivered news that sent parents into a new kind of planning; “I would plan and assume it is unlikely that many of these schools, few if any, will open before the summer” in his stark assessment of the current COVID-19 situation.
“As school districts continue with the shift to e-learning, we can all work together…”
Now, many parents and children find themselves spending a majority of their day together, working online either on daily business activities or chemistry class. For this period to be successful for both parents and students — and to keep families sane while social interactions are limited — there are several considerations that need to be made:
Distractions: While children appear to have the best intentions, once they have full access to an iPad, a Chromebook or a laptop, the temptation to ‘do something other than schoolwork’’ is too much for children to ignore. Parents are being tasked with completing their own work-related tasks and keeping additional online distractions, such as video games or social media, away from their children as they complete their day.
Inappropriate Content: During this time, children will be spending more time connected to their devices, and thus increasing the chance of them coming across age inappropriate content.
Malware: Surfing the Internet is easy, transitioning from one website to another, or a YouTube video to Vimeo, and to another suggested video that looks interesting. Hidden in many web pages are dangerous malware sometimes with executable code that can quickly infect a device, and then spread across the home network.
Thankfully, IT administrators and leading educational staff can help parents address these concerns, working with parents to make homeschoolings as safe at home as it is in the classroom.
To help parents safeguard their home internet, here are some actions IT administrators and district leaders can take:
Use a virtual private network (VPN) for online portals: Just as any business sending its employees home will opt to give access to business applications using VPN technology, educational institutions should do the same for their students. VPN client apps are readily available on all the major operating systems: macOS, Windows, iOS and Android and instructions can be easily given to students for access to classroom tools.
Require advanced firewalls with web filtering: Putting an intelligent next-generation firewall in place at the network edge where the internet comes into the house can help protect against dangerous websites and simply block any sites that are dangerous from being displayed to kids. Once a next-generation firewall is in place, viruses and all types of malware will be blocked no matter whether they come in from emails, links in documents or compromised web pages. In addition to blocking malware, a firewall with Application Control can automatically put in place a time schedule where video games are allowed (e.g., for the 10:30 to 11 am break) and then block the video games when it’s time to go back to class.
Education and discussion with parents about internet safety: Spending a short time with parents discussing Internet safety is worthwhile. IT administrators should establish online training materials to educate parents and students how to identify suspicious emails or peculiar activity on their network. Using this time to educate parents, and children, about what personal information is, when it should be used online, and what to look for if they suspect a fraudulent website has been used to access their information will help protect against cyber criminals during this time.
As school districts continue with the shift to e-learning, we can all work together to make this time successful and an easy, secure transition for students and parents.
Timur Kovalev is Chief Technology Officer at Untangle, a leading network security solution provider. He graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with a degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and has been a software engineer, systems architect, and CTO with over 20 years of experience. He holds an MBA from the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado, Boulder.