Students see increased cyber risks during remote learning
About 98 per cent of the threats encountered were riskware and adware, research showed
With an increasing number of academic institutions making the switch fully to distance learning, or adopting a hybrid model, experts have warned of the growing number of cyber risks that are disguised as online learning platforms.
Recent research by Kaspersky has shown that from July to December 2020, more than 270,000 users encountered various threats disguised as popular learning platforms, which is an increase of 60 per cent when compared to the first half of 2020.
Kaspersky’s researchers noted that the threat has only grown as countries around the world fight a resurgence in Covid-19 infections. From January to June 2020, the total number of users that encountered various threats distributed under the guise of popular online learning platforms and video conferencing applications was 168,550 – a 20,455 per cent increase when compared to the same period for 2019. This number has only continued to grow from July to December. As of January 2021, the number of users encountering various threats using popular online learning platforms as a lure reached 270,171.
Users typically encounter threats disguised as popular video meeting apps and online course platforms through fake application installers, which they may encounter on unofficial websites designed to look like the original platforms or e-mails disguised as special offers or notifications from the platform.
The most popular lure, by far, was Zoom, which is unsurprising given that Zoom has more than 300 million daily meeting participants. The second most popular was Moodle, followed by Google Meet. The number of users that encountered threats disguised as popular online learning/video conference platforms increased for all but one platform – Google Classroom.
About 98 per cent of the threats encountered were riskware and adware. Adware bombards users with unwanted ads, while riskware consists of various files that may carry out actions on your computer without your consent. Trojans made up roughly one per cent of the threats encountered.
“Unfortunately, until all students are back in the classroom full-time, educational institutions will continue to be a popular target for criminals, particularly since this sector has traditionally not prioritised its cybersecurity. However, the pandemic has made it clear that this has to change, especially since technology is increasingly being incorporated in the classroom – virtual learning or not,” said Anton Ivanov, security expert at Kaspersky.
Recognising the growing need for online safety, especially when it comes to protecting vulnerable school children, the UAE has launched various initiatives to combat the threat and raise awareness. These include the ‘Digital Life Quality Approach Initiative’ by the Ministry of Education which, among other things, aims to draft and publish content for parents, to raise their awareness of digital safety, common mistakes, and how to protect themselves and their children. Last year, the Abu Dhabi Early Childhood Authority launched the UAE's first-ever 40-point ‘Child Online Protection Guide’, which provides a holistic approach on how to navigate potential threats and risks relating to online and digital platforms for children.
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