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COVID-19

Remote college creates fertile ground for internet mischief

Scott Tong Aug 21, 2020
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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
Heard on:
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’s the outlook for vaccine supply?

Chief executives of America’s COVID-19 vaccine makers promised in congressional testimony to deliver the doses promised to the U.S. government by summer. The projections of confidence come after months of supply chain challenges and companies falling short of year-end projections for 2020. What changed? In part, drugmakers that normally compete are now actually helping one another. This has helped solve several supply chain issues, but not all of them.

How has the pandemic changed scientific research?

Over the past year, while some scientists turned their attention to COVID-19 and creating vaccines to fight it, most others had to pause their research — and re-imagine how to do it. Social distancing, limited lab capacity — “It’s less fun, I have to say. Like, for me the big part of the science is discussing the science with other people, getting excited about projects,” said Isabella Rauch, an immunologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Funding is also a big question for many.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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