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Teachers and IT: How to keep kids safe on Chromebooks

Tips on keeping students safe off-campus while helping them learn on their school-issued Chromebooks.

Just a few short years ago, Apple was the undisputed king of tech in schools. If you didn’t have iPads in your classroom, you were planning to get them soon. But today the momentum has shifted dramatically. Google’s Chromebook has almost completely replaced Apple’s iconic tablet as the first choice for classroom-tech initiatives.

Chromebooks are in many ways ideal for classrooms, allowing teachers to leverage online resources to provide richer, more differentiated educational experiences to your students. In addition, Chromebooks have multiple, substantial layers of built-in security, providing peace of mind regarding certain types of cyber threats.

To improve on that security, school IT probably also use a secure web gateway appliance and a firewall to protect students and staff from web-borne threats. Depending on the solutions the school or district has chosen to install, this is effective—as long as the devices are connected to the school network.

A Worrying Security Gap

Unfortunately, one fast-growing security gap that has largely been neglected is the one that opens up when your students take school-owned Chromebooks off-campus. Whether at home or over a public Wi-Fi connection, learners are exposed to risk when they connect to the internet And when students are exposed to risk, so are schools, reputations and careers.

Possible Risks with Off-Campus Chromebooks

Possible risks associated with off-campus Chromebook use include:

1. CIPA Compliance

The basic requirement of the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) is to monitor minors’ online content and behavior, and protect them from online dangers and inappropriate or illegal content. If teachers and IT are only monitoring and protecting students during part of the time that they are using Chromebooks—only when they are at school, but not when they go home or to the coffee shop—then schools and districts may not be in compliance with CIPA. A single incident could lead to a great deal of cost and trouble.

2. Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying takes many forms and uses many platforms and media, but it continues to increase, and it continues to cause devastating psychological damage among young people.

There are solutions that educators  and staff to monitor and control social media traffic while students are on the network, scanning for keywords so that you teachers can be alerted and intervene before things get out of hand. However, schools must also be able to protect students from this very serious threat whenever and wherever they use the devices issued to them. Using a security product that lets educators block access to social-media sites whenever and wherever school-issued Chromebooks are connected to the internet can make a real difference in protecting the community’s children from cyberbullying.

3. Cyber Threats

When students go online through a public Wi-Fi network, they are taking security chances provided by the host. If the host security is inadequate, learners can all too easily access malicious websites or open phishing emails that can deliver malware. The next day, at school, students can be unwitting vectors of an attack that ends up affecting the school’s entire network, or endangering critical or confidential data. Today’s most common malware attacks use ransomware, which can disrupt operations and cost schools a good deal of money. Be sure that you’re able to extend protection against these attacks whenever your Chromebooks go online, whether on-campus or off.

(Next page: Chromebook safety solutions)

Remedies to address the risks:

Comprehensive Web Security

A web security solution that extends policies and protections across both on-network and off-network devices, including Chromebooks, is the best way to meet CIPA requirements, and to ensure that your community’s children are protected whenever they use school-issued devices.

One that gives you the capability to block the social-media sites that are most commonly used for cyberbullying can make a real difference in your students’ lives, while reducing your potential liability.

Closing the gap that allows off-campus Chromebooks to become infection vectors for your entire network is another key benefit of extending web security beyond the network boundary.

Solving the Chromebook-Specific Puzzle

The dangers enumerated above are well understood. Remote filtering and off-network policy enforcement have long been recognized as important security capabilities in the age of mobile computing.

However, the specific design of the Chromebook—simple, robust, entirely browser-based, and without a real operating system—has until now made it difficult to enforce security policies off-network.

Some vendors have begun offering solutions that use Chrome browser extensions to implement security that extends beyond individual networks. These solutions are improving daily, both in ease of use and in cost-effectiveness. To be sure that you’re meeting your regulatory and ethical responsibilities to your community’s children, you should be sure to include this capability in your requirements for any new web security solution that you choose to protect school-issued Chromebooks.

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