Even with the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine and the nationwide mission to distribute as many doses as possible, there will unfortunately continue to be a large population within the United States that will continue to school online.If there is anything that can be taken away as a result of the pandemic, it’s that the resiliency and spirit of the United States is ever-present in the way that tens of millions of students nationwide have made the effort to convert to an entirely online format. Even then, it may come with extreme difficulty, as oftentimes taking classes home alone may result in a lack of accountability, stress, and even claustrophobia.

Aside from these issues that may arise in terms of motivation, there are also risks to using an online format that should be considered. For example, using the internet without taking the necessary precautions may result in an increased susceptibility to cyber-attacks. Cyber-attacks, as defined by the Pew Research Center, are attacks that can result in a leak of personal information (which can lead to identity theft) as well as virus and malware installation. It is no surprise that, unfortunately, while the entire nation is banding together and taking online classes, those who commit cyber-attacks are also working around the clock to commit these crimes.

However, there are numerous steps that can be taken to reduce the likelihood of these attacks. Not only will these steps benefit your personal device, but it can also help other devices that are in the same network in your household. 

With that being said, here are the 3 steps that can be taken to stay safe during online classes in 2021:

 

1. Risks in Taking Online Classes

 

The word cyber-attack may seem like something out of a science fiction movie, but to personal computers and networks, these attacks can be a very real thing. Identity theft in the United States is rampant, and many of these crimes can unfortunately be traced back to decreased security within personal networks but also data leaks that have happened within large corporations such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and now Clubhouse. These data leaks result in the publication of personal data such as addresses, names, phone numbers, etc. Unfortunately, this is oftentimes why you receive numerous scam calls on your cellphone asking about a credit card or car insurance. 

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It may even be the case that you may never see the effects of one of these widespread data leaks, but cyber-attacks to home networks can have a much more personal and dangerous effect. For example, there is a specific cyber-attack that is called a DDoS, which stands for distributed denial of service. Basically, what happens in a DDoS is that a machine or network becomes indefinitely inaccessible to the intended users by interrupting the services of a host network. This is what occurred in September 2020 to the Miami-Dade County Public Schools (MDCPS) system, where the perpetrator launched a direct DDoS on the servers hosted by MDCPS, causing hundreds of thousands of students to see a constant waiting screen when they launched their classes.

Cyber-attacks, both at a home level and large server level, can be very dangerous, and it is important to both know the dangers and the steps that can be taken to mitigate these attacks.

2. How to prevent a cyber-attack

 

First and foremost, the most important step that can be taken to ensure security is to maintain proper care of your passwords. These are the best ways to ensure that happens:

 

  • Make sure all of the passwords to your accounts are uniquely crafted. This ensures that if your password is compromised, all of your accounts won’t be hacked into as well.

  • Ensure that your password is strong enough. A few characters, numbers, and differences in capitalization can be the difference between a password compromise and security.

  • Avoid using personal names, consecutive strings of numbers such as “1234”, and even birthdays in your password. A neat trick is to think of a memorable phrase and use the acronym as a password. For example, using “FPLA is the best!” can lead to a password that is “FPLAizdbst:)”. 

  • While storing all of your passwords in a note on your phone may be convenient, it is also very dangerous. It is recommended to store these on a written piece of paper.

 

Although many privacy risks can come from social media, it is important to use the Two-Factor Authentication feature that these websites, and many others, offer. This ensures that any login will be reported to you via SMS, and any log in requires a personalized and temporary code.

Additionally, responding to any person that you do not know can always put you at risk of a cyber-attack. Only respond to people you can trust to ensure security.

 

3. Acknowledge the benefits of online learning

Even though online classes were a sudden and drastic change in environment, some saw it as an opportunity to learn in a different way. Many steps have been taken to ensure that student retention remains constant throughout class, as it is easy to get distracted when sitting in the comfort of your own home.

For as much as Google may seem to have all of the answers, I would say that it is overrated and misused. Google only shows results that fit the keywords in your search most accurately, and many times, the results may not be the most accurate. You can often times find trustable resources on those links that end in “.edu”, such as Harvard and MIT that upload entire courses online completely free for everyone to access. This can all be accessed through the internet, and it is great to have these resources as a supplement to your learning.

 

Author credit:

Gabriel Gutierrez-Ruiz, a FPLA certified tutor, authored this article. He teaches Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry, Calculus, and other STEM subjects. He received admission with full scholarship to the University of Florida, Georgia Tech, University of Michigan and waiting to hear from Harvard, Stanford, and the MIT. At Full Potential Learning Academy, we offer live, 1-on-1 online tutoring for students who want to excel in school and gain admission to private and charter high schools and to ranked private and public universities, they aspire to attend. FPLA-Online offers a state-of-the-art learning experience, complete with a live interactive whiteboard, annotation tools, screen sharing, document sharing, video sharing, and more.