Cybercriminals now threaten online learning platforms

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    THE education sector is now under threat as cybercriminals have faked online learning platforms, attempting to flood these with adware and riskware that could potentially to steal data or penetrate machines and networks.

    More than 1 billion schoolchildren around the globe are affected by school closures as countries attempted to slow rising infection rates, and a huge number are now in virtual classrooms.

    The switch to emergency remote learning has left many students and educators vulnerable to cyber risks.

    Security experts at Kaspersky noted a 60 percent increase in these online platform threats in the 2nd half of last year. The threats continue as the pandemic changed the learning landscape. In the Philippines, only two modes are allowed—modular learning and remote online classrooms. But in some countries, a limited hybrid (in-person and remote) model of learning is applied.

    It is in these digital platforms where cybercriminals thrive.

    From January to June 2020, the total number of users that encountered various threats distributed under the guise of popular online learning platforms/video conferencing applications was 168,550 – a 20,455 percent increase when compared to the same period for 2019. Then from July to December 2020, some 270,171 Kaspersky users globally encountered various threats disguised as popular learning platforms—an increase of 60 percent.

    “Unfortunately, until all students are back in the classroom full-time, educational institutions will continue to be a popular target for criminals, particularly since this sector has traditionally not prioritized its cybersecurity. However, the pandemic has made it clear that this has to change, especially since technology is increasingly being incorporated in the classroom—virtual learning or not,” Anton Ivanov, security expert at Kaspersky comments.

    The most popular lure was, by far, Zoom.

    This is not surprising given that Zoom is the most popular platform for virtual meetings, with more than 300 million daily meeting participants. The second most popular was Moodle, followed by Google Meet.

    The number of users that encountered threats disguised as popular online learning/video conference platforms increased for all but one platform—Google Classroom.

    About 98 percent of the threats encountered were classified as “not-a-virus.” This particular category does not diminish the threat and is divided into riskware and adware. Adware bombards users with unwanted ads, while riskware consists of various files – from browser bars and download managers to remote administration tools – that may carry out various actions on your computer without your consent. Trojans made up roughly 1 percent of the threats encountered. Adware may seem inane but oftentimes serves as a backdoor for more malevolent threats.

    Users typically encounter threats disguised as popular video meeting apps and online course platforms through fake application installers, which they may encounter on unofficial websites designed to look like the original platforms or emails disguised as special offers or notifications from the platform.

    To help educators and their students stay secure when using digital tools in the classroom, Kaspersky has put together a variety of resources, including an online course that teaches cybersecurity best practices. To stay safe from malware Kaspersky experts recommend the following:

    1. Do not download any unofficial versions or modifications of these applications/platforms. Look for information about the developer and choose the official app stores.
    2. Use different, strong passwords for each of your accounts. Use a solution like Kaspersky Password Manager that generates and secures unique passwords.
    3. Make sure downloads are from the official company website before proceeding to download anything to your device. Fake websites may look just like the real thing, always double-check the URL format and spelling of the company name before you download anything.
    4. Use a reliable security solution that delivers advanced protection on all devices.

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