How to Teach Computer Security Skills

This piece was originally published here by Educating Modern Learners.


With increasing adoption of computer technologies, schools must do a better job addressing two important issues: privacy and security. Here, education security advocate Jessy Irwin offers some first steps in learning about security. And this isn’t just a lesson for students — it’s for teachers and school leaders and parents as well. 

If digital citizens have learned anything from the web in 2014, it is that this year is the year of the hacker. While malicious black hat hackers compromised hundreds of millions of accounts across the web, their ethical, white hat counterparts uncovered code flaws like Heartbleed and Shellshock that weakened parts of the critical infrastructure of the web. In this new web order, the question is no longer “if” you will be hacked on the web, but “when.” In many schools, the primary goal of digital literacy education is to give students the skills they need to find, remix and create content on the ever-expanding worldwide web. In the quest to unlock the potential of the web and its troves of boundless content for learners, however, many educators overlook the weakest aspect of digital literacy for the average web user: security. Continue reading “How to Teach Computer Security Skills”

On #edsec: Education’s massive security problem

Dinosaurs are a very important part of the security conference experience.
Dinosaurs: a very important part of the security conference experience.

A few months ago, I gave a talk at BSidesLV on the state of security in education technology. My talk, #edsec: Hacking for Education isn’t a hacker talk in the truest of senses— I had no l33t, sophisticated hacks to show off, no beautiful backdoors into well-maintained code to make my point. Instead, I went the route of discussing the lack of security standards, the dire state of security awareness among educators, the deplorable state of school infrastructure, and the security-averse attitude of developers within education technology .

I should have written this post months ago— I am thankful for alot of people who helped me get through my first-ever talk at a national conference— but I’ve been struggling to overcome an awful, awful feeling that in the pit of my stomach after I finished my week away at hacker summer camp. After being surrounded by people who discussed securing the critical infrastructures that make our web work, protecting medical devices from attack, and preparing for the Internet of Things that is to come, I realized that I didn’t go far enough.  Continue reading “On #edsec: Education’s massive security problem”

A must-read for educators: privacy, ethics, and educator responsibility in #edtech

There are some exciting tools out there that allow students to do amazing things, but test them out first of all with a dummy account and cast a critical eye over the ethics of the service before you encourage students to start using it.

If you’re an educator, this post by Cameron Hocking is a great place to begin thinking critically about the tools you use and the responsibility you have in protecting your students data: Educational Conferences and the ethics of EdTech.

How Educators Can Protect Students’ Data from Security Breaches

This article was written for MindshiftKQED, where it appeared here.

getty

By Jessy Irwin

Every day, teachers are responsible for maintaining numerous logins, passwords, data, and other private information about their students. As chief technology officer in the modern century classroom, an educator’s role becomes more complex (and potentially overwhelming) as more tablets, computers, and web tools are put in the hands of students. With so many tools, security and privacy are often an afterthought despite the increasing number of websites that fall victim to data breaches and security vulnerabilities each day.

Last week, researchers discovered Heartbleed, a massive security flaw in an encryption tool used to protect data across some of the most popular sites on the web. For almost two years, this hole in OpenSSL may have quietly left two-thirds of the web vulnerable to eavesdropping, leaking private data including logins, passwords, and other information stored in Web servers to anyone who might be listening. Given the enormous amounts of information entrusted to teachers about their students, colleagues, and their communities, here are a few important measures teachers can take to protect themselves from Heartbleed.

  • Don’t login to a site or attempt to change your passwords unless you’re certain that a vulnerable site has been fixed. Though most major web companies have fixed the Heartbleed bug, it’s important to note that logging in and changing passwords on a vulnerable site will leave you vulnerable to the likelihood of an attack.

  • There are numerous resources that can help you determine whether a site is vulnerable or if it has been patched. If you use Google Apps for Education, Yahoo! Mail, Pinterest or Minecraft in your classroom and you haven’t changed your passwords in the last week, it’s safe to do so now. For Android users, this tool from mobile security firm Lookout will help identify whether your operating system is susceptible to Heartbleed. Alternately, there are many tools that can check encrypted sites for the bug herehere, and here.

  • Your online accounts are more likely to be compromised by a phishing attack that attempts to steal account credentials than a hacker exploiting Heartbleed to steal data from servers. Because public awareness of Heartbleed is high, malicious hackers will do their best to make the most out of this situation as they can. For maximum security, educators should be manually accessing the sites they use when they want to login and change passwords instead of clicking through links within an email.

  • If you’re using the same password for multiple accounts on the web, it is safest to assume all of the accounts using that password have been compromised. In the wake of major data breaches, criminals can and will employ tools that attempt to break into any online accounts they can. If you are one of many educators exercising this insecure habit, now is an excellent time time to break it. Password managers like LastPass1Password and KeePass are valuable tools that can help educators to generate, store, and audit passwords for all of your web accounts.

  • Heartbleed may be affecting your school or district network, too. Security engineers are beginning to discover that firewalls, switches, virtual private networks, servers and other important network hardware are also susceptible to the hole in OpenSSL. In some cases, the records of your current and former students stored in an SIS are vulnerable, and sensitive information could be leaked without a trace to the rest of the web. District technology leaders, technology coordinators, and anyone maintaining databases full of student information should double check with hardware vendors to confirm whether their systems need patching or not.

Though technologists and engineers have patched many of the sites vulnerable to Heartbleed, it’s impossible to determine if sensitive user data may have leaked onto the web. While there is no such thing as being completely safe from hacking and data breaches on the web, there are many preventative measures that can be taken to protect sensitive data and online accounts. If there’s a lesson that can be taken away from Heartbleed, it’s this– there’s never a bad time to be proactive about online security.

Jessy Irwin is a privacy and security advocate who once integrated technology and social media into a class of 3,000 students.

 

 

How Educators Can Protect Students’ Data from Security Breaches

This article was written for MindshiftKQED, where it appeared here.

getty

By Jessy Irwin

Every day, teachers are responsible for maintaining numerous logins, passwords, data, and other private information about their students. As chief technology officer in the modern century classroom, an educator’s role becomes more complex (and potentially overwhelming) as more tablets, computers, and web tools are put in the hands of students. With so many tools, security and privacy are often an afterthought despite the increasing number of websites that fall victim to data breaches and security vulnerabilities each day.

Last week, researchers discovered Heartbleed, a massive security flaw in an encryption tool used to protect data across some of the most popular sites on the web. For almost two years, this hole in OpenSSL may have quietly left two-thirds of the web vulnerable to eavesdropping, leaking private data including logins, passwords, and other information stored in Web servers to anyone who might be listening. Given the enormous amounts of information entrusted to teachers about their students, colleagues, and their communities, here are a few important measures teachers can take to protect themselves from Heartbleed.

  • Don’t login to a site or attempt to change your passwords unless you’re certain that a vulnerable site has been fixed. Though most major web companies have fixed the Heartbleed bug, it’s important to note that logging in and changing passwords on a vulnerable site will leave you vulnerable to the likelihood of an attack.

  • There are numerous resources that can help you determine whether a site is vulnerable or if it has been patched. If you use Google Apps for Education, Yahoo! Mail, Pinterest or Minecraft in your classroom and you haven’t changed your passwords in the last week, it’s safe to do so now. For Android users, this tool from mobile security firm Lookout will help identify whether your operating system is susceptible to Heartbleed. Alternately, there are many tools that can check encrypted sites for the bug herehere, and here.

  • Your online accounts are more likely to be compromised by a phishing attack that attempts to steal account credentials than a hacker exploiting Heartbleed to steal data from servers. Because public awareness of Heartbleed is high, malicious hackers will do their best to make the most out of this situation as they can. For maximum security, educators should be manually accessing the sites they use when they want to login and change passwords instead of clicking through links within an email.

  • If you’re using the same password for multiple accounts on the web, it is safest to assume all of the accounts using that password have been compromised. In the wake of major data breaches, criminals can and will employ tools that attempt to break into any online accounts they can. If you are one of many educators exercising this insecure habit, now is an excellent time time to break it. Password managers like LastPass1Password and KeePass are valuable tools that can help educators to generate, store, and audit passwords for all of your web accounts.

  • Heartbleed may be affecting your school or district network, too. Security engineers are beginning to discover that firewalls, switches, virtual private networks, servers and other important network hardware are also susceptible to the hole in OpenSSL. In some cases, the records of your current and former students stored in an SIS are vulnerable, and sensitive information could be leaked without a trace to the rest of the web. District technology leaders, technology coordinators, and anyone maintaining databases full of student information should double check with hardware vendors to confirm whether their systems need patching or not.

Though technologists and engineers have patched many of the sites vulnerable to Heartbleed, it’s impossible to determine if sensitive user data may have leaked onto the web. While there is no such thing as being completely safe from hacking and data breaches on the web, there are many preventative measures that can be taken to protect sensitive data and online accounts. If there’s a lesson that can be taken away from Heartbleed, it’s this– there’s never a bad time to be proactive about online security.

Jessy Irwin is a privacy and security advocate who once integrated technology and social media into a class of 3,000 students.

 

 

Does edtech need a cheerleader?

tswizzlecheerleader

Over the past few years, I’ve noticed a worrisome trend in the education community– the rise of the edtech cheerleader. I’m not talking about the teacherbloggers who are the first to integrate the trendiest of tech tools into their lesson plans (that’s another post.) I’m not talking about the teachers who champion technology in ways that extend archaic, ineffective practices in the classroom. I’m not even talking about the teachers pre-writing blog posts about how their tech-infused lessons before the lesson ever takes place (that’s another post). And in case you’re wondering, I’m not even talking about a few recent Techcrunch-y additions to the edtech blogging market. (That one’s a shocker, I know!)

Continue reading “Does edtech need a cheerleader?”

Edmodo: Securing user data, ur doin’ it wrong #edtech

Awhile ago, I mentioned in an epic rant post that a certain ridiculously well-funded education technology company *coughEdmodocough* should spend more money on its security and less money on, say, things that don’t serve to actually make its product better for its users.

The original article that has inspired hours of passionate ranting can be found here, but its main takeaway from it is this: the biggest K12 LMS out there doesn’t secure its user data. Edmodo (and Schoology’s*) user data can be intercepted and viewed by someone other than its intended audience (students, parents, teachers). While the chances of an actual hacker being out there just waiting to prey on some kid’s homework data are slim, this lack of encryption is deplorable—absolutely unacceptable.

Edmodo’s spokeswoman attempted to quash the issue by saying SSL encryption has been available to schools for some time— and that all they have to do to get it is to “opt-in.”

Instead of doing what is right for all of their users and securing their data with industry-standard encryption, Edmodo is making their users opt into something that should just be standard in their platform. 

Let that sink in for a moment, and then, think about it again.

Instead of protecting their user data, instead of taking the time to build out faster and more efficient ways to do right by their userbase, they’re only offering it on an opt-in basis. In essence, your Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest accounts are more secure than a network you use professionally meant to house assignments and sensitive communications among teachers, students and parents.

Are you mad yet?

Education technology news rarely ever makes the New York Times— this was kind of a big deal, a majorly, majorly big deal— and I’m sad to see that  so many people in edtech dropped the ball on pitching an absolute fit. In the case of education and student data, using SSL or any other method of encryption (pick one, there are many!) is the right thing to do… and that anyone would make it an opt-in feature, not a standard feature that protects all of the users on their platform is absolutely unacceptable

Education technology gets a day in the New York Times, and the usual edtech players fail to point out the obvious. How many four-line stubs of this article did you come across during Edmodo/Schoology/edtechencryptiongate?