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5 tips to prevent student hackers from accessing school computer systems

Student hackers
Mark Kingham Mark Kingham

“Greenwich University suffers second data breach this year in apparent ‘revenge hack’ by former student” – Independent

“British teenager hacks North Korea’s newly-launched Facebook site after guessing the login and password were set to ‘admin’ and ‘password’” – Daily Mail

“Europe’s youngest app designer expelled after hacking school computer system” – The Telegraph

Technology advances have made learning easier and students are increasingly tech-savvy.  However, the down side is that there has been a dramatic rise in unethical activities. Protecting school computer systems from student hackers is now an urgent priority.

A recent article in The Guardian highlighted that many students’ internet understanding and online abilities are now way beyond those of their teachers. As a result, it can be a nightmare for schools to deal with students who hack into databases, steal staff passwords and access secure sections of school websites.

Research by Probrand revealed that “how to hack the school computer” has been searched for more than 2,100 times in the UK. Astonishingly, this is monthly! So, why do students indulge in such practices? The reasons can be varied – to retaliate for punishment, to change their grades, improve their attendance, for peer respect or just for fun.

Commenting on school systems being hacked, Action Fraud, the UK’s national reporting centre for cybercrime, stated that school computer systems are vulnerable to unauthorised access. “Schools are just not aware of all the ways they can be attacked.”

How can schools ensure safety from student hackers?

1. Usernames and passwords

The most important way to prevent unauthorised access is to review your user list, check who has permission to access what kind of content, and give each student and staff member a unique login id and password. This will provide you with an audit trail to follow in case of a hacking incident. A generic login id makes it difficult to find.

Encourage your staff to use strong passwords and change them frequently. Likewise, have a separate password for confidential data. After all, no school would want a repeat of the Bay House School incident.

2. Creating separate networks

Separating the student network from the staff network makes it harder for students to access sensitive information. Staff must be warned about sharing their passwords with students, or anyone else for that matter, because hackers can access passwords in the simplest ways.

3. Prepare copies of grades

Students feel the pressure of getting good grades and therefore the idea of hacking into the school system can be tempting. Teachers can prepare separate copies of grades by downloading or printing the grades every time a test is taken or an assignment is submitted. This kind of back-up can be a good recovery process in case of a hacking event.

4. Encourage open communication and set ground rules

Encourage open communication between students and staff members so that everyone knows what measures need to be taken to prevent hacking. Similarly, ground rules must be set highlighting acceptable behaviour when using school computers. Students should also be made aware about the rules and consequences for hacking or not adhering to the school’s policy.

5. Teach students to be digitally responsible

With the help of Internet safety lessons, students can be educated about taking responsibility for their online activities. Teachers should teach students to practice appropriate online behaviour while exploring the Internet for learning resources. Help them understand that their online activities don’t occur in a vacuum, and there might be consequences. This has the potential to make them digitally responsible.

Student hacking cannot be entirely prevented. However, schools can prevent most of it. Whilst applying the above measures is a good start, schools need to implement cyber safety measures to avoid more than just student hackers. This is where Securus steps in. Get in touch with us today to safeguard both pupils and your school systems.

How to address sexting in schools

Sexting
Greg Johnson Greg Johnson

“Sexting…(is) common among teenagers in most schools. From time to time we hear about issues with sexting and recently a student reported that she had been asked for images by someone who had sent her images of himself. I’ve also heard about anonymous groups which seem to be popping up on social media and asking for images.” – A head teacher at a Dorset school

Just how common is sexting?

An article in Sec Ed emphasised a 2016 NSPCC/Office of the Children’s Commissioner England study which stated that 13% of boys and girls had taken topless pictures of themselves and 3% had taken fully naked pictures. Of the children who had taken sexual images, 55% had shared them with their peers. 31% of this group had shared such images with someone that they did not know.

Furthermore, The Times carried out an investigation of 50 schools and found that tens of thousands of children shared sexual imagery online over the last three years. It also revealed that more than a third of sexting cases involved children aged 12 and 13.

So, what can teachers do to tackle this ‘sexting crisis’?

How to respond to and manage sexting incidents

The UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS) published guidance in 2016 to help teachers and schools manage incidents of sexting by students under 18 years of age. “Sexting in schools and colleges: Responding to incidents and safeguarding young people” highlights the steps that need to be taken if sexting happens in your school:

1. Disclosures

A student who is affected by a sexting incident may inform a class teacher, the designated safeguarding lead (DSL) at the school or any other member of the staff. School policies must outline the protocols for such disclosures. These should follow the normal child protection policies. A student who is the subject of sexual imagery is likely to be distressed, especially if the image has been circulated widely and/or if they don’t know who has shared it or where it has ended up.

Depending on the evidence and the initial review meeting the school may decide the best course of action – whether to involve the police or any other agencies.

2. Handling devices and imagery

Teachers have significant powers to seize and search an electronic device if there is a good reason for doing so. If they believe that a device contains indecent images, that device can be examined and confiscated.

When it comes to viewing such imagery, teachers should not view it unless there is a clear reason to do so. This decision must be based on the professional judgment of the DSL and must be in accordance with the child protection policies and procedures. However, there are exceptional cases when such imagery may be viewed:

  • If viewing the imagery is the only way to decide whether to involve other agencies
  • To report the image to a website or app or a suitable reporting agency to have it taken down
  • To support the aggrieved student or their parents to prepare a report
  • The student has presented such imagery directly to the staff or if it has been found on the school network

3. Assessing the risks and deciding on a response

There are various reasons for students to engage in sexting: romantic exploration, coercion or boosting self-confidence. If a decision is made not to refer to the police or any other agencies, the DSL should assess the risks by considering key questions and then deciding on the appropriate response. Some of them are:

  • Why was such an image shared?
  • Was the student under pressure to produce such an image?
  • Across which platforms has the image been shared?
  • Was it shared with the knowledge of the concerned student?
  • Does the student fully understand consent?

4. Involving parents

The decision to involve parents must be taken at an early stage unless it puts the students at risk. The decision not to involve parents should be made in conjunction with other agencies. The responsibility then lies with such agencies as to when they deem it appropriate to inform parents. DSLs may either work with students to decide on the best approach or support them in informing their parents themselves.

5. Preventative education programmes

The Keeping Children Safe in Education guidance states that schools should ensure children are taught about safeguarding, including online, through teaching and learning opportunities. Therefore, teachers could develop lesson plans and classroom activities to teach students about sexting.

This would help students develop skills, qualities, and knowledge to help them avoid such risks. Such initiatives by teachers also help in maintaining open lines of communication should they encounter such problems.

At Securus we identify and prevent thousands of online risks to students every day. Get in touch with us today to safeguard them and monitor their digital footprint!

How can schools prevent and respond to race and faith targeted bullying?

Race and faith targeted bullying
Mark Kingham Mark Kingham

We focus so much of our time and effort on teaching our children to respect their roots, their heritage, their lineage or their faith. However, when they become victims of bullying related to race and faith, you often find yourself wondering how to help your child not to feel left out or bullied because of the way they look, their culture or their nationality.

As teachers and parents, it is natural to become increasingly concerned about rising levels of bullying incidents. To help combat this, the Anti-Bullying Alliance has suggested some key actions that schools can take, both to prevent and respond to race and faith targeted bullying.

  • Send out an email to all students and parents to remind them of the school ethos and values and remind them too, that the school challenges all forms of bullying and abuse. That email must stress that any reports of racist behaviour will be taken seriously even via social media platforms.
  • Ensure that your anti-bullying policy and cyber safety policies include race and faith targeted bullying This can be posted on your school website so that it is readily available to all members of the school community.
  • Encourage students to be vigilant about bullying, prejudice and abuse, and to report any concerns.
  • During tutor time, in assemblies and through the curriculum, take time to ensure that all students feel that they are all equally cherished, respected and valued. Reassure them that if they have any worries about bullying or abuse, they can speak to teachers and support staff.
  • All members of the school community should be informed that any offensive language or comments will be strictly dealt with.
  • If you are unsure how to handle such situations, then it is important that your school seeks advice. Here are some organisations that may be able to offer additional support: ChildLineSupports, Tell MAMA, crimestoppers-uk.org, org and victimsupport.

Choosing a resource or activity that can help prevent race and faith targeted bullying

You can have a policy to tackle issues relating to bullying, but when it comes to bullying related to race and faith, it can get a bit sensitive. Follow these steps:

  • Ensure that you familiarise yourself with the resource. For instance, if it is a film related to bullying, watch it all the way through.
  • Consider whether the resource may provoke strong reactions in students or if it could lead to conflict. If it does, how will you manage? Also, understand whether you might need additional support either prior to using the resource, during or after the session.
  • Check whether the resource is suitable for the age group.
  • Encourage students to talk to you if they feel uncomfortable during any of the sessions, because bullying related to race and faith need to be tackled delicately.

Not all incidents of bullying due to race, faith and culture need legal intervention. Your first approach should always be to talk openly with your child’s school. Also, don’t forget to ask:

Is your school protected?

A cyber safety solution is an ideal way to secure your school’s networks. Securus is designed to protect pupils and staff on the curriculum network by way of alerting the schools safeguarding team of inappropriate and potentially harmful behaviour.

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