Understanding online safety and security

Issue: Volume 103, Number 3

Posted: 13 March 2024
Reference #: 1HAfXa

Knowing the right online safety and security principles is crucial for kura and schools. The two concepts must work in tandem to ensure ākonga have safer, more positive experiences online. 

Safer Internet Day, which was recently marked on 6 February 2024, provided a timely reminder of how there’s always more to do collectively to stay safer online.

Ākonga will be less likely to click on an unsafe link or open a phishing email if they’ve been informed about the risks.

Ākonga will be less likely to click on an unsafe link or open a phishing email if they’ve been informed about the risks.

The terms ‘online safety’ and ‘online security’ are often used interchangeably – and although closely related, there are key differences between the two. 

In broad terms, online safety is protecting people and ensuring good digital citizenship in online spaces, while online security is about protecting digital systems and data including personally identifiable information.

Good online safety involves educating users on the best online behaviours and practices, such as how to identify harmful content before clicking on it, not sharing personal information, and responsible handling of sensitive data.

Training kaiako and ākonga to spot the signs of scams, cyberbullying and misinformation, and knowing what to do, are also examples of creating a safer online environment for your school.    

Good online security is about making sure your devices and networks have robust technical solutions in place to help protect against malicious attacks – such as malware, ransomware, phishing attacks, DDoS attacks and other threats.

This means things like a strong firewall, email protection and antivirus software. It’s also about having solid governance, structures and processes in place to ensure good information management, two-factor authentication (2FA), and strong password policies.    

While they’re different, safety and security are intertwined. Setting ākonga up with the skills to navigate online spaces as safely as possible leads to more protected networks.

For example, ākonga will be less likely to click on an unsafe link or open a phishing email if they’ve been informed about the risks. Similarly, enhancing security makes it less likely that people will be accidentally exposed to harmful content.

Supporting good digital citizenship

Whether it’s online safety or online security, what people do makes a difference. Supporting positive user behaviour goes a long way to creating a safe online learning environment.

This means setting rules and guidelines around online behaviour for users of your school’s network. For ākonga it’s important to develop skills around digital literacy and good digital citizenship. 

A good digital citizen doesn’t just know how to safely access online spaces but knows how to behave when they’re there. They’re aware of the risks online and have the critical thinking skills to assess information before accepting it. Most importantly, they use digital platforms to build positive relationships and knowledge.

External help and safeguards

 To minimise risks for ākonga online, it’s important to put tech safeguards in place to support better online safety. This can involve schools and kura working with Network for Learning (N4L) to block and filter inappropriate content, and tracking or monitoring internet use.

Also, having safety plans and seeking support from organisations like Netsafe can help schools and kura better respond to safety incidents.

Protecting systems with security measures

Once upon a time, downloading antivirus software was enough to protect against many online threats. Now, with a far more complex online environment and constantly shifting technology, cybersecurity has evolved.

There’s no single tool that can cover every potential threat, but there are measures that can help make school and kura networks more secure:

  • Ensuring kaiako and ākonga are using unique, strong passwords and two-factor authentication for online accounts such as email. The Ministry of Education has information about 2FA on their website.
  • Keeping software and operating systems up to date across school devices.
  • If not already in play, creating a practical cybersecurity policy that can be shared with kaiako and ākonga.
  • Reducing the risk of threats (such as DDoS attacks) by having N4L’s Safe & Secure Internet recommended settings as a baseline level of protection.
  • Minimising SPAM and phishing attempts with N4L’s Email Protection solution. Email Protection provides an extra level of email security and is fully funded by the Ministry of Education for eligible schools.

There are also a range of organisations, such as CERT NZ, Netsafe and the Ministry of Education, to help steer schools and kura through online safety and security waters.

Further, N4L’s Security Operations Centre helps to protect schools and kura, and mitigate harm from major cybersecurity vulnerabilities and incidents, and their expert Security team proactively monitors the network for cybersecurity risks or incidents.

How you can get support

If you need support, please contact Network for Learning or the Ministry of Education’s Digital Services Team.


Email: support@n4l.co.nz

Website: N4L(external link)

Phone: 0800 LEARNING (0800 532 764)

Ministry of Education

Email: digital.services@education.govt.nz

Website: Cybersecurity – Ministry of Education(external link)

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 12:16 pm, 13 March 2024

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