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How to protect your personal information while more schools go back to distance learning

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FARGO — Parents and students are becoming all too familiar with cracking open the Chromebook instead of getting on the school bus. With more going to distance learning, "Zoom bombers" and personal information are potentially at risk. Protecting your family and students can be simple, as long as you are vigilant.

Jeremy Straub with NDSU's institute for cyber security says regular online classrooms were suddenly thrust onto the IT world back in March with little planning.

"There are not too many other things in terms of the scope of human endeavor that are as large in terms of the number of people participating and the number of people so quickly as this educational change," Straub said.

Make sure there is nothing offensive in the background or anything that shows personal information. It could be on things like a bill attached to your fridge, or other documents throughout the home. Make sure your student leaves the computer where it is if they need to get something.

"Do whatever it is they need to do, get the snack or otherwise, and then come back," Straub added. "So you don't have the computer kind of wandering through the house."


He also wants parents and teachers to keep this in mind — students may be doing non-school related activities even if they appear to be online.

"Alert their children to the fact that there are consequences to that, even though perhaps it doesn't seem like they would be the same as if the student was actually in the physical classroom," Straub explained.

For teachers, ensure the online classrooms are secure with strong passwords. Do not share them with anyone outside the class. Have everyone in the class introduce themselves on camera to prove they are present, and no one else is intruding the video call.

Other than the occasional "Zoom bomb," where someone crashes a video call, Straub believes online classrooms as a whole are staying safe.

"This is a network environment that wasn't really designed for this type of use that's forces people to work in this way because of the obviously very pressing situation we have due to the coronavirus pandemic," he explained. "This IT change was rolled out without a ton of prior planning. It was rolled out without a ton of infrastructure that existed to do it. It was rolled out without a lot of testing. So when you're making a change like this, even under the best of circumstance, you expect there to be problems."

A big part of this is parents and teachers continuing to be observant and Straub hopes things stay that way.

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