February 25, 2024

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Cyber Resilience for New Zealand’s Education Sector

 In 2023, New Zealand witnessed a surge in cyberattacks, mainly targeting students and educational institutions. A study found that the education and research sector is the most targeted, with an average of 2,297 weekly attacks against organisations.  Schools emerged as vulnerable targets susceptible to phishing attacks by hackers, highlighting the pressing need for enhanced cybersecurity measures within the education sector. Successful cyberattacks can result in schools being locked out of their systems, losing confidential data, and financial implications.

As schools kick off the 2024 academic year, law enforcement agencies call on parents and caregivers to exercise caution when sharing back-to-school photos of their children online. While celebrating these significant milestones is common, authorities emphasise the need for privacy precautions to protect children from potential risks associated with the digital realm.

Parents often eagerly share images of their children in school uniforms or at educational institutions, inadvertently revealing identifying features that children could be exploited. While such incidents are relatively uncommon, cases of inappropriate use of images, including their incorporation into child exploitation material, underscore the importance of heightened awareness.

Law enforcement officials highlight the risk of offenders using seemingly innocent images to gather information about children. Identifying details such as school logos, which are prominently displayed on uniforms, can be exploited by predators for sinister purposes like child grooming. Even seemingly innocuous videos and live streams can be a cause for concern, as offenders may capture still images through a process known as ‘capping.’

In response to these potential dangers, authorities urge parents and caregivers to adopt proactive measures to ensure online safety for their children and personal information. Police encourage some essential tips to enhance online safety:

  1. Mind Identifying Features: Before sharing images, carefully scrutinise them for identifying features, including school uniforms, logos, buildings, and street signs. If any of these features are unavoidable, parents can use easily accessible editing tools to blur school logos and signs, adding an extra layer of protection.
  1. Understand App Settings: Parents and caregivers are encouraged to familiarise themselves with app settings, particularly privacy settings. This may involve turning off location settings and adjusting profiles to private or friends-only modes. A thorough understanding of these settings can significantly reduce the risk of unauthorised access to personal information.
  1. Communication is Key: When others, such as friends or family members, take photos of children, discuss how the images will be used and shared. Clear communication can help mitigate potential risks associated with disseminating these photos.
  1. Guard Personal Information: Keep children’s personal information private, such as full name and age. Avoid disclosing specific details about the school year they are entering, as this information can inadvertently reveal their age. Safeguarding these details adds an extra layer of protection against potential exploitation.
  1. Report Suspicious Activity:

Parents and caregivers are urged to remain vigilant and report inappropriate or suspicious online behaviour. Seeking help and support from law enforcement or relevant authorities is crucial in maintaining a secure online environment for parents and children.

As the academic year progresses, parents and caregivers must prioritise digital safety, ensuring that the joy of sharing milestones online does not compromise the security of their children.

New Zealand is very responsive in addressing these cyberattacks. Issuing warnings before incidents signifies the government’s seriousness in protecting the education sector from cyber threats. While cyberattacks on education continue to rise, New Zealand’s policy reflects a responsive approach to these challenges. By implementing these precautions, families can create a safer online environment for their loved ones while embracing the technological advancements that define the digital age.


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