Tips & Advice

6 tried-and-true steps for staying safe online when going back to school

Grace Roberts, 19 August 2020

Online learning presents a new set of risks for both families and educators

Back to school season is upon us. And this year, things look a bit different. Families and teachers alike are having to adjust to the reality of online and distance learning, often facing a steep learning curve in familiarizing themselves with various online tools, software and curricula. 

As if the transition to online education wasn’t enough, the prevalence of scams related to Covid-19 continue to put our online safety at risk. Cyber criminals around the world are on the move, trying to take advantage of the current pandemic.

As we’re now closer than ever online, this can spell trouble for our digital identities. Going back to school, it’s crucial that students, parents and educators ask themselves an important question: What exactly can we do to stay safe when we’re online? Here are six tried-and-true steps we can all take to be more cyber aware, both now and in the future.

1. Protect yourself through a VPN

Think your browser’s Incognito mode is protecting you from being tracked across the internet? Think again. Incognito or “private” mode is designed to keep your browsing history secret from anyone who’s trying to access your computer from your computer. So it’s great if you don’t want others to know what sites you visit, but not so great if you don’t want Facebook, Google, your boss, or the government to know what you’re doing online.

For that, you need a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN creates a secure, encrypted connection so that any information you send or receive over the internet is protected from everyone from hackers to the government.

2. Use a reliable DNS

A domain name system (DNS) is the tool computers use to bring you to the sites you want to visit. So, for example, when you type, “facebook.com” into the bar at the top of your screen, your computer reaches out to the DNS, which comes back with a series of numbers so that your computer can bring you to Facebook. However, an unreliable DNS can send back fake information which brings you to a hacked version of the site you’re trying to access. A reliable DNS , on the other hand, protects your computer by always sending back the real version of websites. For a list of free and public DNS servers, check out this recent article by Lifewire.

3. Get to know your browser

Your browser has a lot to do with how safe you’ll be when you’re online, and with so many browsers to choose from these days, it’s important to know exactly how your browser helps you stay safe online. Our own browser for example, Avast Secure Browser, is focused heavily on privacy and security — features built in to hide and protect your personal info, prevent hackers from stealing your data, and block ads for faster browsing and online learning.

Download Avast Secure Browser

4. Update your software

One of the most important things you can do to keep yourself safe online is to regularly update your software. Software updates — from the apps you use every day to the operating system on your computer or phone — often come with security updates, large and small. If you don’t download the update, however, your device is open to attack from those security gaps.

5. Use a password manager

If, say, you fell prey to a phishing attack through email or social media, then how secure would the rest of your accounts be? If you use the same password for multiple sites, not very secure. That’s why it’s essential to create unique passwords for every login and every website.

But who has the memory to keep track of all of those? Certainly not me. That’s where password managers come in. Password managers are secure vaults where you can store every single password. All you have to remember is one master password to gain access to any login information that you need. They’ll also generate random passwords for you, either as a combination of letters and numbers or as unrelated words.

And if you want to create a password on your own, without the help of a password generator, one idea is to use three completely unconnected words — like, for example, zebraautohouse — words you can combine for a more secure password.

6. Make use of adblock

Today’s elementary-age students are incredibly technologically savvy. This allows them to learn to read and write, as well as interact with online tools, at an early age. While this development is significant for kids, it also means that they’re faced with digital threats before they’re properly capable of protecting themselves.

Since it can be difficult for children to identify suspicious content online, installing an ad blocker, as well as parental controls, can aid them in browsing the web and avoiding malicious sites.

The internet is amazing — but it’s also dangerous. It’s up to each of us to become more cyber aware and to share that awareness with others, so we can protect ourselves and stay safe while preparing for the upcoming school year. Follow these tips, and you’re off to a great start.