#114 – Staying Safe and Secure in a Digital World

Unpacking Education September 14, 2022 38 min

In a world of computer viruses, hackers, phishing scams, COPPA, and other tech-related issues, the concept of cyber security can often feel intimidating and confusing. And, while we know it’s important, we may not always know what we should be doing to protect ourselves and those around us. However, we can protect our communities and classrooms by demystifying these terms and empowering ourselves with actionable strategies.

In today’s episode, we are joined by Ryan Cloutier, a cyber security expert who is able to explain this topic in simple, clear, and actionable terms. Ryan describes himself as “a man on a mission” to serve K–12 education and to “help build a bridge that allows us to have a more meaningful conversation” and “actually be able to take action in our homes, in our classrooms, in our families, and in our communities to reduce our risk, to improve our safety, and to start to get ahead in developing the digital life skills that we need to successfully navigate this future that we’re still creating.”

Join us as Ryan helps us unpack this important topic in a way that removes unnecessary technical verbiage and applies actionable strategies meaningfully to an education setting.

Paul Beckermann
PreK–12 Digital Learning Specialist
Rena Clark
STEM Facilitator and Digital Learning Specialist
Dr. Winston Benjamin
Social Studies and English Language Arts Facilitator

Passwords are like underwear. Don’t let people see it, change it very often, and you shouldn’t share it with strangers.

Chris Pirillo, American entrepreneur


The following resources are available on AVID Open Access to explore related topics in more depth:

Do Something

When it comes down to it, we all need to take action. As Ryan says, we each need to “do something.” Any simple step in the right direction toward cyber security and safety is a good step, and we just need to start the journey. As he says, “Don’t let tomorrow be the day that you listened to this and didn’t take any action.” Do something.

Throughout this episode, Ryan shares best practices for living in a digital world. His examples are both practical and contextualized in a school setting. Tune in to this episode and take away a few simple steps that can help you move ahead and do something to improve the security and safety of your digital life. Here are a few highlights from the episode.

  • Cyber security: Cyber security involves protecting “the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of digital information and resources.” Essentially, it’s the steps we take to protect our digital devices and the information stored in them.
  • Individuals within a system: As individual users, we need to be aware of our role in protecting the larger system. Ryan explains that users are often not always clear about their role because it’s never been clearly explained to them. He says, “System-wide, the biggest challenge is that the individual users of the technology are not clear on their roles, habits, behaviors, and actions that they need to be taking continuously to keep those systems safe and secure.”
  • Role of the individual: Educators do not need to be IT experts. However, they do need to understand that their role is much like securing a room during a lockdown drill. The educator’s role is to protect students in a digital environment, much like they would protect them in a physical environment, and they need to know a few actionable steps that they can take to keep students, staff, and systems safe.
  • Three things you can do: There are three simple things everyone can do to help keep their technology systems safe and secure. The first is to ask why. For instance, why is someone requesting information from me? Ryan suggests imagining someone standing at your classroom door asking for the information. What would you say to them? Your response should be similar in a virtual environment. The second tip is to raise your hand and ask for help if you’re unsure what to do. It’s okay not to know. Go to your tech director and ask for guidance. And third, don’t be embarrassed to report mistakes. We all make mistakes, and a quick response is the best way to prevent a bigger, negative event.
  • Biggest risks: The most common threat to school tech users is being tricked into authorizing something potentially harmful. This includes putting credentials into fake login screens or installing malicious software. Ryan suggests, “If you don’t know what it is, do some research. Be very cautious.”
  • Less is more: Installing new apps is one of the most common behaviors that can cause viruses or security breaches. Ryan acknowledges that teachers want to have the best tools available for their students. He also offers, “You want to have the least amount of apps on your phone or device as possible.” In fact, he suggests that you should review installed programs and apps every 90 days and delete the ones you’re not using. You can always reinstall them.
  • Healthy skepticism: Ryan reminds us, “If it’s too good to be true, it is.” Nothing is free, and it’s helpful to explore tech products and sites with a healthy skepticism. Be careful of online surveys and encourage students to be “careful what you put in your mind.”
  • Social media: Social media can take a negative social-emotional toll on students. Ryan reminds us to help students keep social media in perspective. “Remind the student that their self-worth and value lies within, not the number of likes or shares that you got.” He adds, tell them to “take some time to realize that you have worth and value, and you don’t need social media or the internet to give it to you.”
  • Passwords: Ryan suggests using passphrases instead of passwords. These are easy-to-remember but hard-to-hack phrases that you type in the password field when logging in. Of course, we also need to be age appropriate with what we demand of our students. We can expect more complexity from high school students than from primary students.
  • Phishing: These are scams sent via email to get you to give up information. Ryan suggests that you “read it out loud and listen to how ridiculous it sounds.” If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Ask yourself if this fits the context of how you usually hear from a specific person or how you operate within your school ecosystem. You might always consider looking away and back at the message a few times to get a fresh perspective. If you’re unsure, ask someone for a second set of eyes on it or another opinion before you respond or supply the requested information.
  • Share settings: One thing to always check is your share settings on Google or Microsoft 365 documents. Make sure not to share publicly when you do not intend to do so. Cybercriminals can easily find these documents through an internet search.

Guiding Questions

If you are listening to the podcast with your teaching team or would like to explore this topic more deeply, here are guiding questions to prompt your reflection:

  • How do you define and understand cyber security?
  • What is your role in helping keep your larger system secure?
  • What are 3–5 simple things you can do to improve cyber security?
  • What are some of the most common cyber threats that you might face, and what can you do to protect yourself and others?
  • What tips from this episode should you pass along to colleagues and students?
  • How can you avoid being a victim of a weak password or a phishing attempt?
  • What is one thing you can do tomorrow to better protect yourself in this digital world?

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