Keep Your Children Safe in Online Classrooms
Over the past few months, we have witnessed an unprecedented surge in online video classes. Video conferencing has been used for years by schools and businesses, but now the technology has been forced on many new users, some of whom have not been prepared to embrace it. Zoom, just one of more than a dozen popular video conferencing apps, saw its usage increase 574 percent over a six-week period in March and April. Many of the new users are schools, and the technology has salvaged the spring semester for students. Due to the success of online classes, education may never be the same, from kindergarten through college.
Unfortunately, online classes have the potential to open up students to outside dangers, especially younger children.
As with all things, there are those who will use technology for mischief. That is especially true when a technology has inexperienced and vulnerable new users. Video conference intruders have seized on this opportunity to stir up trouble.
The first concern is content bombing, more popularly called “Zoom-bombing.” This usually takes the form of a troublemaker entering a video conference uninvited and creating havoc by displaying pornography or other offensive material such as racial slurs, heckling or otherwise disrupting the meeting. This is not limited to virtual classrooms, of course. Any online meeting – business, consults with doctors or even therapy sessions – are fair game for the people who get a kick out of such disruption.
Public meetings, such as an online county government meeting, are easy to invade, but content bombing is much more difficult when users and the host of the meeting use appropriate security protocols, including passwords. Like burglars who pass by locked houses, online home invaders usually will first look for unlocked digital doors. But the more dedicated disrupters always seem to be one step ahead of security experts. (For the less dedicated, there is a YouTube video, “How to Zoombomb,” and thousands of passwords are for sale on the dark web.)
The Zoom-bombing problem is severe enough that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in April issued a warning about the hijacking of classrooms, urging users to be vigilant. New York City schools, the largest school system in the United States, in April banned teachers from using Zoom after expending considerable effort in training them. New York teachers have since been allowed to use Zoom again for online learning after Zoom made numerous improvements to privacy and security settings.
How to protect your family in an online learning world
- Make sure you are taking advantage of a program’s security features. This should always include passwords, and nobody should have the ability to enter a meeting without a password.
- Never share a link or password to a meeting on social media.
- Be sure you are using the latest version of software. Say yes to update requests because video conferencing software companies are constantly patching their software to close security holes.
- Don’t be shy about asking teachers what they are doing to protect students. Most of them were not using this software a few months ago and had to learn the software on the fly.
- For meetings that you control – online music lessons, private tutoring, counseling or your children’s meetings with friends or relatives – use the software that gives you a level of comfort. It will take work to assess the security and other features of the available software platforms, and all have tradeoffs. Some of the better-known programs are Zoom, Cisco Webex, Microsoft Teams, GoToMeeting, Skype, Google Hangouts, Apple FaceTime, BlueJeans and Amazon Chime.
Be a vigilant parent
Don’t assume any of these steps guarantee safety and privacy. Hackers are relentless and they have breached the data of some of the world’s largest retailers, hospitals and banks. Even the Pentagon has been hacked. Hackers can certainly find their way into your child’s virtual schoolroom.
That means the only security you can depend on is personal monitoring of your child’s video conferencing. Do not let your kids use these platforms unsupervised, and for younger children, never let them initiate or receive video calls. Today’s kids were practically born with electronic devices in their hands, and they can master the workings of software programs before their parents have even read the instructions. The temptation may be to give them free rein over something they seem to already understand so well, but you should not do it.
Kids may appear to be experts in all things digital, but, as a parent, you are the expert in setting boundaries. When it comes to video chat programs, be a vigilant parent.
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