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Cyber safety for teachers: Tips to stay safe online

By Spencer Callaghan
Director, Brand & Communications

Digital tools provide many benefits for teachers but also pose privacy and security risks. Learn how to stay safe while using online tools in the classroom.

Teachers can now use an array of digital tools to help make their job easier, increase opportunities for learning and improve student engagement. But these tools can also pose privacy and security risks.

The increase in online courses for continuing education and other programs, as well as the move to remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, has added even more opportunities for cyber crime.

Remote learning safety risks

Remote learning has opened up a whole new field where cyber criminals can launch malware attacks and data breaches. “Zoombombing” is also a security risk, where pranksters break into private video conferencing meetings. Phishing is another favourite of hackers. This is when a cyber criminal tries to extract information, login credentials or money from you by impersonating real people or companies through text messages, phone calls, email or social media.

A cyber criminal may send an email or link to a website, where the domain name looks close to a real name but with typos or extra characters (for example, If you click on these links, you may download a malicious program or be tricked into sharing your login credentials. Cyber criminals can also use your login credentials to launch spam or phishing attacks, gain access to your other accounts (if you reuse passwords) or collect personal information that may be used in other scams.

Tips to protect yourself online

Follow your institution’s policies

To protect yourself and your students, be sure to read and follow your school board or institution’s policies. These may include responsible use guidelines and education about avoiding online risks. Teach your students about topics including privacy and security, online communication, cyberbullying, digital footprints and reputation and copyright.

Use strong passwords

Use strong, unique passwords for all of your accounts, store them with a password manager and use the added security of multiple-factor authentication. Using a different password for each account means that if one is compromised, the others are still safe. You should also use different email addresses and passwords for your work-related and personal accounts. Remind your students about good password management too.

Safeguard your students’ privacy

When sharing information with your students or showcasing their work, keep it within password-protected, school-approved platforms, including school email accounts and private learning management systems. Password protect your virtual conferences and keep meeting IDs and passwords private. This will keep unwanted visitors out of video meetings with students.

When considering what apps and platforms to use for teaching, start with institution or school board-approved choices. Non-educational tools may not have the necessary privacy settings to protect student data.

Social media safety for teachers

Tips for using social media in the classroom

If you run a classroom Twitter or Instagram account or have a blog, ensure the privacy settings are at the highest level. Keep your account private so that you can approve followers and limit them to students and their parents or guardians. Even with these precautions, act as if anything you post can be seen by the public. Stick to only using students’ first names, only include faces in photos with parental permission and keep any locations private.

Tips for using social media in your personal life

As a teacher, it can be difficult to navigate social media. What is appropriate to post? Should you follow your students or let them follow you? How about parents and colleagues? The first step you should take is to customize your privacy settings to control who sees what information about you. Configure your settings so that you have approval over who is viewing your posts and limit what comes up in search results, so only specific groups can see your photos, posts or likes.

If you want to interact with students on social media, check if your school board or institution has policies on this. If you want to use social media to discuss classroom projects or share student work, you may consider having one private account and one for school.

Secure your devices

Use antivirus software

Antivirus software prevents, detects and deletes viruses from your computer. It protects from malware and may provide other features like website blocking and firewalls. If you have a school-issued laptop, your institution or school board may load it with the proper software or require you to use a specific brand or type. If not, be sure to add your own. Set it to perform regular scans and update it on schedule.

Password-protect your computer

Always lock your computer when you are taking a break. Use a strong password to unlock your computer. With programs like Windows Hello, you can also use facial recognition or a fingerprint to access your device. Stay aware of your surroundings and avoid writing down your passwords or entering your credentials within view of someone else.

Secure your Wi-Fi network

If doing work at home or teaching remotely, ensure your Wi-Fi network is secure. Choose your own password on your router, rather than using the default login credentials and change the manufacturer-assigned router name.

Consider a VPN

When sending information over a Wi-Fi network, a VPN uses encryption to scramble your data and keep it secure and unreadable. And, because your data is exiting the VPN server, it appears to have the internet protocol (IP) address of that server, masking your IP address and hiding your online activity.

About the author
Spencer Callaghan

Spencer Callaghan is the senior manager, brand & communications at CIRA. He is a writer, former journalist, and has experience in technology, non-profit, and agency environments throughout his career. His areas of expertise include content marketing, social media, branding, and public relations.