Universities should secure their online platforms and applications

Schools, colleges and universities as well as their students should be more careful and aware of security issues when using online platforms for educational purposes. To prevent identity and data theft, online applications used by schools and universities should be sufficiently protected, according to VASCO Data Security.

They are still enjoying their summer vacation, but soon students all over the country will be returning once again to their classes and books. Others will take an even bigger step and go to a college or university for the first time in their lives. Today, it is hard to imagine a secondary school or a university without the necessary IT infrastructure.

Students use either their own computer or those provided by the educational institution they attend. It has become common for universities to have an online interactive platform to distribute course documents, announce colleges and exchange information on forums. Even secondary schools often have such a platform, allowing teachers to post didactic material and even take online tests.

These kind of online applications are designed to facilitate the communication between (university) teachers and students. Teachers are able to post online course documents such as PowerPoint presentations or texts used in class, making them accessible for all students and eliminating the need to distribute paper versions during class. Students are able to examine these documents or print them anywhere and anytime. The same way, students can submit their assignments and papers on the Internet.

Online platforms are also a quick way to make certain announcements, for instance when classes are canceled or replaced. Online forums offer students the opportunity to ask questions to the professor or their fellow students, thus encouraging discussion on certain difficult topics and, more important, allowing everyone to follow it.

But online platforms used by educational institutions are also a great administrative tool. They contain personal data of students and teachers, allowing the administrative services to process quickly information such as address changes.

There are a lot of other possibilities as well: students can subscribe to courses and choose their individual program online, check their grades, and so on. Often, the online applications also involve a kind of digital office, allowing teachers and other employees at the university to submit their expense forms or vacation requests, make reservations of classrooms, and many more.

It is obvious that this kind of application, containing information on people’s identities, addresses and personal data, should be sufficiently protected against possible online attacks. But in reality, many platforms are only secured with a weak static password.

Although choosing a complicated password and changing it regularly is encouraged, it is rarely obligatory. It is thus not unthinkable that online fraudsters would be able to hack the user accounts and abuse personal information they can find there to conduct, for instance, phishing attacks. An effective countermeasure against hackers is strong two-factor authentication.

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