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Creating Safer Schools Through School Cyber Safety Zones

How old were you when you set up your first social media account? The answer will likely vary greatly depending on how old you are. While baby boomers have hopped on the Facebook bandwagon in the last 5 or so years, today’s youth are joining social media at an increasingly early age. By the age of 12, half of the children in the U.S. will have at least one social media account.

With the increased use of social networking sites like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, comes new territory for parents, teachers, school campuses, and education institutions to address – not only around what young children are sharing on social media, but what threats exist on these platforms that have the potential to harm individual children or whole communities. By the time these children have reached college age, they exist in a culture obsessed with ‘sharing,’ ‘posting,’ and ‘liking.’ While there are benefits to this new level of connectedness, these platforms provide sharing opportunities for disgruntled students, cyberbullies, and potentially dangerous people to share threats of physical violence, bullying and more.

New channels, new challenges

For K-12 schools, gaining visibility into social and digital channels means gaining a firm understanding of potential threats to your students, faculty and campus. In the same way that education institutions rely on cameras and alarm systems to find potential physical threats, awareness of what’s being said online is critical in the modern age of sharing. For colleges and universities, this is even more apparent. Understanding what’s being said about your university, campus buildings, sports teams, events, and more will help your campus security team understand a new threat landscape that exists beyond the firewall.

Understanding how to address these challenges can be difficult for schools at every level that have little to no experience in this new threat vector. Here are a few tips for education institutions to create “School Cyber Safety Zones” to help protect students and campuses:

Understand what you’re up against

When talking with schools and universities in the education industry about how they address social media and digital threats, all too often we hear, “we don’t let students use social media in school.” Let’s resolve something up front: the threats on social media and other digital channels won’t go away by ignoring them or pretending they don’t exist. If anything, not maintaining a presence or strategy for how to address these threats puts your school and community at greater risk. The first step to addressing this security blind spot is to see what you’re up against.

Whether it’s through an internal team or an external solution, begin by reviewing what’s being said about your school, campus, faculty, students and community online. Don’t limit yourself to traditional social networks either – a truly robust security program will address threats across a range of digital platforms, including social, chatrooms, deep and dark web, and more.

Teach social media security to students AND faculty

The concept of digital literacy is one that is increasingly used in K-12 schools as a way to teach students how to use digital platforms responsibly. Incorporating digital literacy, and social media security specifically, into curriculums is a great first line of defense for helping students navigate the uncharted waters of the digital world.

But we shouldn’t stop with students. It’s important that faculty and staff at all levels are equipped with training on social media and digital platforms as well, particularly when it comes to scams, phishing and malware which often target staff-level employees as a means to gain access to the larger organization.

Don’t go at it alone

Ultimately, addressing physical and digital threats needs to be a team sport. Unfortunately, threats of violence, bullying and otherwise are common for educational institutions of all sizes, and there is much we can learn from our peers and others in the industry that are addressing these threats upfront today. It’s important to acknowledge that it is difficult for even large universities and school districts to handle threats of physical violence, cyberbullying and targeted attacks published online. Working directly with a technology partner to find and remediate these threats will save your internal security and marketing teams time and resources and ensure threats are thoroughly addressed.

Learn more

As new threats emerge that put your school at risk, it’s imperative that educational institutions take action to address these threats. ZeroFOX is conducting an educational webinar on the latest trends, digital threats targeting the education industry, and what schools can do to address these threats. Join Dr. Sam Small, ZeroFOX and Joseph Carrigan, The Johns Hopkins University Information Security Institute, on April 2 at 2:00 pm ET. You can register for the webinar here, we hope to see you there.