According to the latest research undertaken by Barracuda Networks, in 2018, the number one concern for those who have a responsibility for technology in schools for 2018 is cyberbullying.
The research was targeted at those whose responsibility it is for technology in schools and colleges and follows on from a 2017 study.
One in four respondents cited electronic harassment as their biggest concern, and one they feel least equipped to deal with. In second place, one in five people reported radicalisation as their top concern (down from first position in 2017).
Has Radicalisation Become a Non-Issue with Safeguarding?
The fact that radicalisation has fallen in position from the biggest to the second biggest concern, does not mean that the situation has improved. Figures from the same research tend to suggest anything but. The percentage of people who lack confidence in their organisation’s ability to deliver their duty under the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy, ‘Prevent’, has risen from 9% to 17%.
Launched in 2015 following high profile cases of extremism in schools like those identified in Birmingham in 2014 (Trojan Horse), Prevent was relaunched in schools and colleges to help protect pupils from incidences of radicalisation. There is some good news about the success of the campaign with the following key factors showing improvements year-on-year:
- 30% of respondents reported that their organisation had invested in pupil awareness of the key issues. This is a rise from 25% in 2017.
- 43% of respondents report that their organisation had invested in staff training around their duties under the Prevent scheme. This is an increase since 2017 where just 19% reported this to be the case.
Speaking to Barracuda Networks about the report’s findings, the founder of WISE KIDS, a charity promoting safe internet use, Dr Sangeet Bhullar commented:
“It is noteworthy that the number one issue that schools and colleges feel least equipped to deal with in 2018 is cyberbullying. It is important that we address the underlying issues that lead to young people becoming bullies, getting exploited, or becoming radicalised. Reducing access to dangerous and illegal content is key. However, this is not enough. We also need to listen to and engage with young people and work with them to co-create solutions. We also need to help them develop their resilience and well-being, so that they feel supported, and able to deal with challenges online and offline.”
Director of IT Services and Development at Wellington College, an independent education facility in Berkshire, Tony Whelton was asked for his opinion on the research:
“Many of these findings ring true to me. While cyber security is relatively straightforward for companies – as the focus is on protecting assets and data – we’re in the business of educating young people, ready for their next journey in life. Enabling this securely while enforcing safeguarding procedures is one of our biggest challenges.
We’ve recently changed our approach to better protect the online wellbeing of our students. Traditionally, we used to protect students from malware and potentially harmful material by blocking content using categorisation. Now, we also use technology to analyse the data that is being accessed to help identify patterns. For example, viewing material on a subject of concern once or twice may represent someone being a bit curious. However, repeatedly searching for it could mean there is an area of concern.”
Cybersecurity Training Moves Up the Agenda
Although spending on staff training and pupil awareness campaigns has improved, the concerns around radicalisation and cyberbullying remain legitimate concerns that require more focus.
However, one area that is rising up the agenda for schools is cyber security. Since the UK Government announced plans to inject £20 million into schools to improve education on this hot subject, training for staff, as well as pupils, is high on the agenda.
According to the research, 56% of respondents reported that their organisations had invested in training for staff with just under half (42%) reporting that lessons were being offered in the subject to its pupils.
More than one in four organisations (28%) also reported that they have invested in specific insurance policies that covered cybersecurity. This was higher than those who had actually reported investing in a cybersecurity policy (25%) but the same figure as those who reported investing in technology to manage and identify risk within their school environment to counter terrorism (28%).
If cybersecurity is on a par with terrorism in schools, then what is driving this concern?
It would seem logical to think that the increased focus on cybersecurity is a result of a rise in actual attacks. 11% of organisations reported being victims of ransomware attacks with 2% admitting that they were forced into paying for the release of their data.
However, the figures from the research reveal that this is not the case but is motivated largely behind the perceived threat and not an actual one.
Recent cases in the news of high-profile security breaches and cyber-attacks have played a part in raising awareness with 66% of respondents agreeing that this was the case.
Overall, seven out of ten respondents view cybersecurity as a necessity for their organisation with just 18% knowing it was necessary but claiming to have neither the resources or the budget to address the issue.
Wellington College’s, Whelton gave his opinion on the matter:
“Cyber security training can be tricky as it’s easy to switch off when your teacher talks to you about cyber risks. An effective approach that has engaged our students is using well-known YouTube vloggers as the educators – as they can give real-life examples of cyber security issues at work.
Staff in education tend to be very trusting, so they do click links from people purporting to be their colleagues or ex-colleagues. This has happened to us, and ransomware ended up encrypting a staff member’s device. Luckily the data was easily recoverable thanks to us using Barracuda backup. However, I’m not surprised that 11% of schools have been hit by ransomware as this is a familiar story I’ve heard from quite a few schools.”
The level of awareness in schools and colleges around cybersecurity and those issues relating to it, including radicalisation and cyberbullying, has improved since 2017. But the lack of resources and budgets seems to be a barrier to improving the provision of security with technology use. Whilst tech teams remain too stretched to provide adequate training and tools, pupils education in, and experience of, technology will suffer as a result and more must be done to improve investment in this area.