Cybersecurity in Schools: How to Protect Students Online

The increased use of technology in education has led to a rise in cyber attacks on school networks, impacting student learning by disrupting access to digital tools. Learn how to mitigate these risks and educate students about cybersecurity.


With the increased use of technology and reliance on digital tools for everything related to education and the world of work, there has been an increased number of cyber attacks happening. These cyber-attacks are not only happening to companies and organizations around the world, more recently, there have been many schools in the United States that have fallen victim to cyber-attacks on their school networks. These attacks wreak havoc in so many different ways. Beyond the financial aspect of recovering from a cyber attack, there is an impact on student learning. Losing access to digital tools impacts our instructional methods as well as limits the materials that students can use to create artifacts of learning or to engage in different ways with the content in their classroom. It can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months or even longer to fully recover from a cyber attack, so it is essential that we understand how to protect our information and, of course, that we help our students to understand the importance of cybersecurity. Especially in today's digital age, we need to know how to evaluate the websites and the tools that we are using, to model this for our students and to guide them to develop the skills needed to stay safe online and for future success. Learning about cybersecurity may also spark an interest in possible careers!

First, it is important to understand cybersecurity. Cybersecurity and cyber safety need to be discussed and explored at all grade levels. Cybersecurity is the practice of taking measures that ensure we have protection in place for the devices we use and the networks we rely on and that any personal and sensitive information that may be shared in our schools is safe from unauthorized access. We have so many technologies available to us, and this is one of the reasons that we are seeing an increase in these attacks, whether through phishing scams, ransomware, or other malware. Studies revealed that approximately 27% of children ages 7-17 had encountered harmful content while online. Additional studies showed that 75% of children are willing to openly share personal information online, which is why we must be intentional and proactive in helping students understand how to protect themselves online. 

There are a variety of resources available to explore that offer lessons on different topics related to cybersecurity and also have great examples for students to really look closely at fake websites and phishing scams and learn how to identify fraudulent information.

Here are a few to explore:

  1. CISA provides resources for educators and students to learn more about cybersecurity and the careers available in this field.
  2. offers resources to help students understand how to stay safe online. They also have a video series created in partnership with CISA.
  3. Phishing Activities are fun for students to learn to analyze emails and other messages. The Phishing Quiz from Google and the phishing game from SoSafe were really enjoyed by my students.
  4. Staying Safe Online is available from Common Sense and has 23 great lesson plans for classroom use.
  5. The Password Game has students enter passwords, and with each letter or character, another rule is added that they have to follow in order to create a password.

In addition to the organizations that provide resources focused on cybersecurity, there are some guidelines that I use with my students. It is important to teach them how to create a strong password. I Have come up with a pattern that I use that helps me to remember every password that I set for each individual site that I use. Reminding students to not use the same password across websites is also important. the use of a mix of characters and upper and lowercase letters, as well as symbols and numbers is important and also makes it more difficult for somebody to discover the password.  There is a website that takes students through activities to try to create a password, and then it lets them know how long it takes for the password to be guessed. This was a lot of fun for my students to try in our classroom.

We should also talk to students about an additional layer of safety for information through Two-Factor Authentication (2FA). Some examples of 2FA include providing your number to receive a text message with a verification code, an email, or even a phone call to verify that you are trying to access your account. This added layer will help even more prevent unauthorized access to your information. 

Here are a few tips that I share with students:

  1. Create unique and strong passwords.
  2. Don’t overshare personal information.
  3. Be careful using public WIFI.
  4. Don’t download files or click on links before verifying who sent the email and check the address carefully. 
  5. Install antivirus programs and keep your software and operating systems updated. 

If we make time for discussing cyber safety in our classrooms and help students build these skills, it will greatly benefit them and help them to keep their information safe. It may even lead them to explore career possibilities in this area! We will see more technology in use and especially with artificial intelligence and its capabilities, we have to be even more careful when accessing information and interacting online.

About the Author:

Dr. Rachelle Dené Poth is a World Language and STEAM Educator at Riverview High School in Oakmont, PA. She is also an Attorney, Edtech Consultant, Speaker, and the author of nine books about education and edtech. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and connect on LinkedIn.


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