The darker side of ICT

November 2011


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The internet can pose many risks to teachers and students. JUDE BARBACK discusses the actions schools can take.


We shouldn’t underestimate the value of the internet in our schools. It is now an integral part of our education system and rightly so – after all, our students need to be prepared for the realities of living in an online world once they have left school. From researching information, to communicating with other students and teachers, to submitting homework assignments, to seeking online resources for lessons, the benefits of online appear endless for students and teachers alike. However, we shouldn’t misjudge the threats posed by the internet. At the risk of scaremongering, we are all aware of the contradictory ease, and severity of sanctions of accessing inappropriate material on the web.


Teachers beware

There is growing concern that our teachers are vulnerable to online threats. Computer Security for New Zealand Schools cites the case of a well-respected New Zealand head teacher falsely accused of accessing inappropriate material on his computer. Despite his innocence, he lost his job, his home and has since moved abroad. There was also reputational damage to the school. In response to this case and others, Computer Security for New Zealand Schools has sought to bring wider attention to these issues and offer guidance on how to minimise the risks to schools and teachers.

Schools, as employers, have a responsibility to protect their employees. Ideally they should work with their network administrators to ensure their networks are set up correctly and that teachers have the right support. Most importantly, schools need to be provided with guidance on how incidents should be investigated to protect the integrity of the school and give the teacher a fair hearing. Having said that, teachers have a responsibility to protect themselves and need to be sure they are using their computer appropriately.

School network administrators have a responsibility to protect their users and Computer Security for New Zealand Schools builds on existing Ministry of Education guidance while trying to maintain a balance between the rights of teachers, the usability of computer systems and, of course, the protection of our children.


Student safety

For all the cyber safety policy documents and student-signed agreements on using school ICT equipment responsibly, there will be always be the risk of the internet being used inappropriately and schools need to be prepared to deal with this. Even so, it is important for schools to have a comprehensive and easily understood policy for internet use in place. Use clear, specific, age-appropriate language, defining all ambiguous terms. Detail expected standards of behaviour and enforcement guidelines for those who break the rules. Give specific examples of appropriate and inappropriate use.


On iPad alert

Increasingly, schools need to think about protecting their technology from their students as well. With iPads becoming common fixtures in schools, there has arisen a need to protect the devices from students downloading unwanted apps and games. ICT regional advisors for schools have been increasingly asked about how they can limit people from downloading apps onto school iPads.

In addition to spelling out expectations for loan equipment, schools are being urged to alter the settings on their devices so that students – and their parents and siblings – can’t meddle with school property.


Virus protection

Then there is the threat of viruses. Many readers will recall the Conficker virus which infected millions of personal computers worldwide. Among its many victims was Otaki College, bringing the school to its knees in 2009 when the virus infected the school’s computer network via a memory stick. The unnerving aspect of this story is that Otaki College had in place anti-virus software, provided by the Ministry of Education. The software, while not compulsory, has been provided by the ministry at no cost to thousands of New Zealand schools since 2003. Consequently, the college felt entitled to compensation from the ministry after the software failed to detect the Conficker bug. Scarily, viruses are sometimes craftier than the detection programmes designed to stop them. Despite this, experts still advise schools to arm themselves with anti-virus protection software and to seek help quickly when a problem arises.



NZ’s Cyber Security Centre: open for business.

A Cyber threat sounds like something that happens in other countries, but according to the Minister for Communications and Information Technology, Steven Joyce, the global threat from cyber intrusions is real and growing, and New Zealanders and the New Zealand economy are not immune. “Cyber security is becoming increasingly important for New Zealanders, businesses and government. Cyber intrusions have the potential to impact on the reliability of critical infrastructure, government services, and the economy.”

In response to these concerns, the government released New Zealand’s Cyber Security Strategy in June this year, which outlines targeted initiatives to improve New Zealand’s cyber security. The priorities are to increase awareness and online security, protect government systems and information, and strengthen incident response and planning.

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) is a key part of this strategy. The centre, which officially opened in late September, will initially have three main functions: 1) provide advice and support to help develop secure networks; 2) detect and respond to sophisticated cyber threats; and 3) coordinate and assist operational responses to major cyber events of national importance. The NCSC will also absorb the existing functions of the Centre for Critical Infrastructure Protection (CCIP). 

Joyce believes New Zealanders will benefit from enhanced protection of government data and services, and critical national infrastructure. “This is an important step in building New Zealand’s capacity to protect against sophisticated cyber threats.”