How schools can embrace better online safety and security

Issue: Volume 102, Number 5

Posted: 20 April 2023
Reference #: 1HA_TZ

The third in a series of Education Gazette articles on Cyber Security, we explore how Network for Learning (N4L) can support schools to keep ākonga safe while thriving in a digital world.

Digital technology tools are integral to education.

Digital technology tools are integral to education.

The use of technology as a learning tool in Aotearoa  New Zealand schools has grown rapidly over the last decade.

In particular, there was an acceleration in the use of technology by schools during the pandemic lockdowns, as schools moved their curriculum online and then instigated a ‘new normal’ when face–to-face teaching resumed.

Technology will continue to evolve and offer new ways to support the learning needs of ākonga, but as the use of technology increases in schools, so too does the threat from cyber attackers. 

Leading threat intelligence organisation Check Point Research reported last year that the education sector is now the most cyber-attacked industry globally, and that Australia/New Zealand are the most attacked regions in the world.

Therefore, it’s more important than ever for schools and kura to be vigilant about online safety.

Each school’s internet is connected by Crown-owned organisation Network for Learning (N4L), which partners with the Ministry of Education to deliver Te Mana Tūhono programme.

Strengthening defences

It’s never been more critical to ensure that schools and kura are as safe and secure online as possible.

Government agency CERT NZ’s latest quarterly report has listed phishing, scams and unauthorised access as the three top incident categories.

Keeping ākonga safe online is a team effort and everyone has a role to play. N4L can provide support with products and services that can help schools strengthen their defences against online threats, but technology on its own won’t protect schools.

It’s important that schools stay on top of their own cyber security, engage in continuous education for their kaiako and ākonga, and raise awareness of good digital citizenship.

Setting the scene – digital technology plays a key role across learning areas.

Setting the scene – digital technology plays a key role across learning areas.

Tools and products

On a daily basis, N4L blocks over 600,000 cyber security threats targeting schools and makes 2.2 million website content blocks on the network.

To help prevent students from accessing online content that they shouldn’t, schools are able to block entire categories of content (e.g. explicit violence) and unwanted VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) that can allow students to bypass these settings. These filtering rules can be customised for schools by N4L.

Web filtering forms are part the Safe & Secure Internet service N4L provides schools, as part of the recommended settings, which also provides DNS (Domain Name Server) threat protection.

This helps block unsafe content and enables Google SafeSearch to filter out adult content in search results.

Safe & Secure Internet also offers some protection against the impacts of Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, which can cause an entire network to crash, preventing users (such as staff and students) from accessing resources on the network or the network itself.

Cyber attackers can exploit vulnerabilities in networks. N4L’s dedicated Cybersecurity Team proactively helps identify improvements to systems, monitor for irregularities or suspicious activity, and works with schools to help resolve or mitigate incidents.

During the recent holiday season alone (December 2022 to January 2023), 56.5 million emails containing known or targeted threats (such as malware and spam attacks) against school networks were blocked by N4L. If schools are concerned about the dangers of scams and phishing attacks, or a staff member or student unwittingly activating ransomware and malware through clicking on an email link they shouldn’t, Email Protection is a service that can help by proactively blocking dangerous emails.

Schools can help identify and control who is accessing their network and improve Wi-Fi security with Secure Access, which N4L is delivering in partnership with the Ministry. This provides different levels of access to students, staff and guests, and ensures that those who are accessing the network are the people who are meant to be.

Teamwork – working together to achieve great outcomes is key for cyber security and online safety.

Teamwork – working together to achieve great outcomes is key for cyber security and online safety.

How to get support

N4L are here to support schools and kura and they have resources such as Relationship Management teams across the regions and a national Customer Support team to help.

Support is available from the Customer Support team from Monday to Friday, between 8am and 5pm via or 0800 532 764.

Check Point Research(external link): ‘Education sector experiencing more than double monthly attacks, compared to other industries’, Check Point Corporate Blog, 9 August 2022

CERT NZ(external link) – Quarter Four Cyber Security Insights 2022

About Network for Learning

Network for Learning was established in 2012 by the Ministry of Education. Since then, they’ve been providing schools with access to faster, safer, managed broadband, Wi-Fi and cybersecurity services.

Today, more than 900,000 tumuaki, kaiako and ākonga enjoy daily access to a safer, more reliable online learning environment.

N4L operates one of the largest broadband networks in Aotearoa, accounting for 20 percent of daytime internet traffic across the motu.

For more information about N4L, visit link)

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:30 am, 20 April 2023

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