Threats disguised as online learning platforms surge

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Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, schools around the world are enduring renewed closures or adopting hybrid learning models. Unfortunately, this is seeing the educational sector attracting the attention of cyber criminals.

According to Kaspersky, from July to December 2020, 270 171 users came across threats disguised as popular learning platforms, an increase of 60% when compared to the first half of last year.

From January to June last year, the total number of users that encountered threats pretending to be legitimate online learning platforms or video conferencing applications, numbered 168 550, an increase of more than 20% in comparison to the same period the year before.

The most popular target by a mile was Zoom, unsurprising given that this is the most popular platform for virtual meetings, with more than 300 million daily meeting participants.

Second in popularity was Moodle, followed by Google Meet. The number of users that encountered threats disguised as popular online learning or video conference platforms increased for all but one platform – Google Classroom.

Some 98% of the threats encountered were made up of riskware and adware. Adware bombards users with unwanted ads, while riskware is made up of various files, ranging from browser bars and download managers to remote administration tools, that might carry out various actions on users’ computers without their consent. Trojans made up roughly 1% of the threats encountered.

Users typically encounter threats disguised as popular video meeting apps and online course platforms through fake application installers, which are often found on unofficial Web sites designed to resemble the real McCoy, or e-mails disguised as special offers or notifications from the platform.

Anton Ivanov, a security expert at Kaspersky, says until all learners are back at school full-time, educational institutions will remain a popular target for criminals, particularly since this sector has traditionally not prioritised its cyber security.

“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,” he adds.

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, which can be found here.

Kaspersky advisers users not to download any unofficial versions or modifications of video conferencing apps or online learning platforms and to use different, strong passwords for each of their accounts.

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