With schools being closed as South Africans fights the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, digital education has become more important than ever.

With 13 million learners in South Africa as of 2019, that is a large amount of people suddenly coming online for long periods of time and that is a very tempting prospect for cybercriminals.

For this reason Mimecast has told schools, universities and other educational institutions to be mindful of cybsecurity threats as they move operations online.

“The sudden reliance on teaching tools that may be new to many teachers and learners is potentially creating opportunities for cybercriminals who prey on unsuspecting Internet users with the main aim of monetary gain,” explains cybersecurity expert at Mimecast, Mikey Molfessis.

This problem stretches beyond the realms of schools though. As Molfessis points out, not all learners will have their own device to watch livestreams or download work and they might use their parent’s notebook or tablet.

“This can expose organisations to additional security risks. To protect educators and learners during this time of disruption, education providers need to ensure they raise awareness of potential risks to give end-users enough information to make informed decisions that can prevent risky actions,” the expert says.

There is something of a flaw here however – cybersecurity is not easy nor simple to understand. Beyond that, cybercriminals are smart and their attack methods and vectors get more devious everyday.

Where on one day a spam email might be a blatant attempt at phishing, the next day could see that same attempt being improved upon. Quite simply, teachers need to become cybersecurity buffs while also doing the job they’re experts in – teaching.

There are of course simple things one can do to mitigate the risk of cybercrime.

Updating your software and operating system so that the latest security patches are applied is something simple we can all do. remember Wannacry? That ransomware spread as quickly as it did because systems weren’t updated and the software leveraged those gaps for its own gain.

Installing a robust security solution is also advised but is by no means a silver bullet.

Teachers and learners should also be trained on how to stay safe online according to Molfessis.

“Schools and universities should ensure they have advanced protection in place to protect the privacy of learners as educators engage in online learning activities and communicate more with learners and parents via email. Regular cybersecurity awareness training should also be prioritised to ensure teachers can identify and avoid potential cyber risks and keep learners safe during this disruptive period,” adds Molfessis.

Constant vigilance might be an exhausting prospect but being careful not to click links you aren’t sure of and taking measures to reduce your risk is a big deal in the long run.

[Image – CC 0 Pixabay]