COVID-19

Remote college creates fertile ground for internet mischief

Scott Tong Aug 21, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
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A student at the University of New Mexico attends a virtual class from her dorm. Online education often involves the use of unsecured networks. Sam Wasson/Getty Images
COVID-19

Remote college creates fertile ground for internet mischief

Scott Tong Aug 21, 2020
A student at the University of New Mexico attends a virtual class from her dorm. Online education often involves the use of unsecured networks. Sam Wasson/Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

More and more colleges and universities are going 100% online as the fall semester starts and COVID-19 cases remain high.

The latest include North Carolina State, Drexel and Oberlin, which said Aug. 10 it would begin classes remotely before opening to in-person instruction Sept. 7.

Thing is, more virtual communications means more potential hacking. And university IT managers are going all out to warn students and faculty about the biggest vulnerability right now: email phishing scams.

One recent attempt almost duped a cybersecurity professor. At Cedarville University in Ohio, Phoebe Tsai got an email ostensibly from the bookstore.

“That email lists all the courses that I was teaching,” she said. “The correct matching textbooks. So that notification asked us to pass the links to all our students.”

But the links were bogus. And thanks to a warning from the actual bookstore, Tsai stood down.

When faculty and students do click malicious links, fraudsters can steal personal info and sell it. Or hack into databases and pilfer research.

Allie Mellen at the security firm Cybereason said one enticing email going around now offers students money and promisesfinancial aid services, claiming they’ll give them student loan forgiveness or they’ll pay for the scholarship applications.”

With so many students off campus, it’s harder to verify suspicious activity in person. And often, students log on from outside protected campus IT networks.

“When email is going out to folks at home, we just don’t have control over all of those home networks,” said Andrew Korty, chief information security officer at Indiana University.

Analysts say most email hackers going after students want to make a quick buck. But those targeting faculty may be foreign governments.

Clarification (August 24, 2020): The duration of time that Oberlin College plans to conduct classes remotely has been updated in the text.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What does the unemployment picture look like?

It depends on where you live. The national unemployment rate has fallen from nearly 15% in April down to 8.4% percent last month. That number, however, masks some big differences in how states are recovering from the huge job losses resulting from the pandemic. Nevada, Hawaii, California and New York have unemployment rates ranging from 11% to more than 13%. Unemployment rates in Idaho, Nebraska, South Dakota and Vermont have now fallen below 5%.

Will it work to fine people who refuse to wear a mask?

Travelers in the New York City transit system are subject to $50 fines for not wearing masks. It’s one of many jurisdictions imposing financial penalties: It’s $220 in Singapore, $130 in the United Kingdom and a whopping $400 in Glendale, California. And losses loom larger than gains, behavioral scientists say. So that principle suggests that for policymakers trying to nudge people’s public behavior, it may be better to take away than to give.

How are restaurants recovering?

Nearly 100,000 restaurants are closed either permanently or for the long term — nearly 1 in 6, according to a new survey by the National Restaurant Association. Almost 4.5 million jobs still haven’t come back. Some restaurants have been able to get by on innovation, focusing on delivery, selling meal or cocktail kits, dining outside — though that option that will disappear in northern states as temperatures fall. But however you slice it, one analyst said, the United States will end the year with fewer restaurants than it began with. And it’s the larger chains that are more likely to survive.

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