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Virtually Empowering Digital Citizenship

By Dr. James Norrie, Founder & CEO

In July 2019, none other than the NY Times raised alarm bells about the growing threat of cybersecurity attacks on school districts globally, and especially in the US (Hackers’ Latest Target: School Districts – The New York Times (nytimes.com)). Education was no longer immune. It was now happening to us.

One year later, having ended the 2020 school year with almost every district in the country transitioning to virtual learning for at least a period, we saw a mammoth spike in novel online threats with the FBI reporting a 230% spike in criminal online activity aimed at exploiting obvious COVID-19 anxiety that families, teachers, and students were facing, thus adding complexity to chaos.

By year-end 2020, the target had moved to big, wealthy suburban boards and inner-city districts such as Baltimore, MD (Baltimore County schools suffered a ransomware attack. Here’s what you need to know. – Baltimore Sun). These vicious attacks, exploiting ransomware downloaded by unsuspecting staff, teachers and even students, forces school districts to shut down their entire online learning portals (Ransomware attack hits Newhall schools, stops online classes – Los Angeles Times (latimes.com).  This growing plague arises because the bad guys have perfected their criminal tradecraft, proving to themselves that it works, and are now scaling crime to reap its rewards.  If one needed any more evidence, a national report released in October by the Government Accountability Office, indicated K-12 education as one of the most targeted and vulnerable sectors of government for 2021.

At cyberconIQ, we worry a lot about what happens when people are afraid.  We know from research that this induces a biological state known as “hypervigilance” (find out more in my latest book if this is a new concept to you at Cybercon: Protecting Ourselves from Big Tech & Bigger Lies: Norrie, Dr. James L.: 9781734221091: Amazon.com: Books). Anxiety also interferes with learning of course. So, we must all frame this not as an unsolvable technology problem that exposes us all to risk, but as a human challenge to be solved with new knowledge, ingenuity, and optimism. Around here, we call this “cybersecurity as a team sport”, and our mission is to build school and community resilience one teacher, and one student, at a time.

Nowhere do we think this concept is more valuable than in K-12 education. Everyone on the larger team (families, students, teachers, staff, and administrators) must tackle this problem together as one integrated team.  How can we ensure the safety and security of our whole district online?

To start, this means educating students sooner, immediately upon them becoming more independent online.  In our experience, we find middle school to be an excellent place to begin this conversation in earnest.  Tying into existing curricular concepts such as digital citizenship, SEL, and teaching students to be kind to each other online, we want to support teachers, librarians, and guidance counsellors in the delivery of relevant digital learning.  Enter academIQ: our dedicated, nationally tested educational product enabling wiser choices online.

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Delivered either in the classroom or independently, our complete suite of online tools, lessons and resources enables students to better understand themselves and their online instincts and impulses.  In addition, it helps teachers reframe and refine their understanding of how to encourage mindfulness when online, a critical cognitive function that contributes to improved cybersecurity.  We understand the social challenge this presents, so we make it easy for teachers, students, and families to all benefit from reflecting on their own digital footprints out loud.  During focus groups, it was said at a pilot school: “academIQ is a unique product that will teach students to stay safer online”. Prescott School District

Our cost-effective approach is easy to implement and adapts to curriculum standards used throughout the world.  We support teachers with relevant lessons plans, study guides and other required materials to make teaching this important topic universally easier and more relevant.  And this helps students keep themselves, and their districts, safer online.

To learn more, visit our website at: cyberconIQ.com.  Or you can visit our video library and see sample videos and content, PD workshops for teachers and related items that can bring our solution into view for your classroom and students.

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