Even though the 2020 Back to School season may look very different from those in years past, there are a few things that will remain the same. First, since Back to School is often when parents and caregivers stock up on new clothes, tech, and school supplies for students, it’s also when lots of stores (especially online retailers) run huge sales.
Second, there will be the customary
spike in cyberattacks. In fact, the attacks on the Education sector are already
up. The latest
data from Microsoft shows that the Education sector has recently suffered
more encounters with malware (over 5,000,000 in the last 30 days) than any
Since a lot of children and teens will be attending school virtually, either part-time or full-time, they’ll be spending even more time on the internet than they currently do. The more time they spend online, the higher the risk they face.
Here are the top threats to watch out for, as well as tips for how to help keep young learners safe during Back to (Virtual) School.
According to Tyler Moffitt, security analyst at Webroot, “phishing isn’t going to go away any time soon. As tactics go, it’s an oldie, but goodie. Times of year when people do more shopping, like Back to School or Christmas, are a big draw for cybercriminals. We always see a spike in phishing during those times. And with more people shopping and streaming online during COVID-19, I’m betting we’ll see even more activity this year than we would normally expect.”
To underscore Tyler’s point, the latest intelligence from the Webroot BrightCloud® Real-Time Anti-Phishing service shows that phishing URLs targeting global streaming services have increased significantly. In March 2020 alone, we saw the following increases in phishing URLs, broken out by service:
- Netflix – 525% increase
- YouTube – 3,064% increase
- Twitch – 337% increase
- HBO – 525% increase
Not only should you and your young learner keep an eye out for email scams, but also bear in mind that phishing can happen through a variety of channels. Because many students will end up communicating mostly via online chat, text message (SMS), or social media, it’s important for us all to be extra vigilant about what we click, what we download, and what information we transmit.
The rise in the use of Zoom and other videoconferencing platforms has also paved the way for malicious actors to cause trouble. While it’s named after Zoom, zoom-bombing as a term refers to the act of intruding on a video conference on any platform and creating a disruption, such as spreading hate speech, displaying pornography, and more.
Additionally, Webroot threat researchers have seen videoconference executable files (i.e. the file you run to launch the program) either faked or manipulated so that unwitting victims end up downloading malware.
Fake Websites and Spoofing
Webroot researchers have seen huge jumps in the number of fake websites out there, particularly those with “COVID” and related terms in their domain names. Tyler also warns us to be on our guard for website spoofing, which is when malicious actors create a fake version of a website that looks like the real thing.
“A lot of people will have to access specific websites and online systems for school and related activities,” he says. “Criminals will effectively set traps, so that a mistyped URL or a fake search result could land you on a fake page that looks completely real, only to steal your info or install malware on your system.”
How to Keep Yourself and Your Family Safe
Here are Tyler’s top tips for staying safe online through Back to School and beyond.
- Use internet security software.
If you haven’t already, install internet security with antivirus on all your devices, especially those that will be used for schoolwork. Don’t forget about using a VPN to protect kids’ internet activity from prying eyes.
- Update videoconferencing software.
Make sure children and teens are always using the most up-to-date versions of Zoom (or any other videoconferencing software) to ensure they have the latest patches to prevent malware distribution and disruptions.
- Watch out for phishing in all its
Talk to kids about phishing. Make sure you all know to look before you click. And remember, phishing scams can look just like a text message from a best friend, classmate, or teacher, so always be wary of messages that ask you to click a link or download a file. Use a secondary means of communication, like a phone call, to verify that these are legitimate.
- Use your bookmarks.
Bookmark all required distance learning pages. Criminals may try to spoof these for phishing, especially if there is a popular portal that many schools use. Using a bookmark, instead of Googling and clicking a search result, will help ensure that your kids are on the right page.
- Just say ‘no’ to macros.
If you or your kids download a document and it asks you to enable macros or enable content, DO NOT DO IT. This is very likely to be a malicious file that will infect your computer.
- Use a secure backup.
When we’re all so reliant on our computers and other internet-connected devices to work and study, it’s extra important to make sure they’re backed up. Nobody wants to lose a term paper or other important documents to a malware infection, hardware failure, damage, loss, or theft. Save yourself the hassle and heartache by investing in backup software.
This Back to School season, it’s especially vital that we all do what we can to ensure children and teens have the skills, awareness, and security protocols to stay safe. By following these tips, you can help make sure they stay safe today, tomorrow, and beyond.