Tips for teachers on staying safe online and managing your online reputation

Cat meme. Cat sitting on table with the caption 'It's time we talk about the photos of me you've been posting online'

Yesterday I delivered an after-work training session on online safety and professional reputation for teachers at Sutton Coldfield Grammar School for Girls. The session combined general security tips as well as specific advice for protecting teachers’ professional reputations. Here are some useful tips from the session.

Encrypt and password protect your devices

Padlock with scrambled data to illustrate encryption
Once a device is encrypted, only the passcode holder can unscramble the data held on the device. This means your data will be protected from misuse in the event of your device being lost or stolen. Image: CC0 Public Domain

My first piece of advice to teachers was that they should encrypt all their devices and set a strong passcode to prevent people other than themselves from accessing their data.

Encrypting your device means the data held on it is scrambled and can only be unscrambled by the person who holds the access key. This means should your device be lost or stolen the valuable personal data held on it will be inaccessible to criminals.

Modern Apple devices such as iPhones, iPads and Macbooks are encrypted by default as part of the regular setup process. When you set your passcode, the operating system automatically encrypts your data. The picture is more complicated when it comes to Android devices and Microsoft Windows laptops, with some devices offering default encryption while others require users to enable this feature. Click on the links below for more information.

Apple Support – privacy and your device

Techradar – how to encrypt your Android device

Windows – turn on device encryption

Say Yes to Software Updates

UK government Cyber Aware campaign poster showing ginger cat pointing at laptop screen with the message 'software update'
Cyber Aware advice: download software updates

Chances are your laptop, tablet or phone has prompted you to install important updates but you’ve said no because you’re in the middle of doing something more important/urgent/fun.

Criminals exploit vulnerabilities in software to hack accounts and steal personal information. Regularly updating your software strengthens your defence against these attacks. Most modern devices will automatically remind you about updates but it’s worth checking your device to make sure it is doing this for you. Click on the link below more information.

Cyber Aware – download software updates

Use Strong, Unique Passwords

UK Government Cyber Aware campaign poster showing ginger cat pointing at laptop screen with the message 'strong passwords''
Cyber Aware advice: use strong passwords

Passwords act as a lock to the many different online services we use on a daily basis. Setting a strong password makes it harder for criminals to hack your accounts.

The Government advises combining three random words to make a strong password that is easier to remember than one with lots of unusual characters. It’s also important that you don’t use the same password for multiple accounts, otherwise once criminals find their way into one account, they can quickly access others.

Cyber Aware – strong passwords

Use a Password Manager

Illustration of LastPass password manager helping a user log in to Facebook on a laptop and smartphone
Illustration of LastPass password manager helping a user log in to Facebook on a laptop and smartphone

If like me you find it difficult to remember the passwords for the various online services you use a password manager could be a handy tool.

With a password manager you only have to remember one password (your ‘master password). This password allows you to access a secure (encrypted) digital vault where all your other passwords are stored. When you visit a service your password manager will automatically provide you with your login details without you having to remember¬† them each time. Password managers can also help you review the strength of our existing passwords and help you set strong passwords each time you sign up for a service.

Remember, with a password manager the security of all your logins rests on the strength of your master password so be sure to set a strong password!

There are many different password managers and each one has their pros and cons. Here are some links to some popular options:

LastPass

1Password

Dashlane

KeePass

Sign up for two-step security

Google illustration explaining the benefits of two-step security illustration
Google illustration explaining the benefits of two-step security illustration

Two-step or two-factor security adds an extra layer to your online security. It means even if a criminal were to get hold of your your password (say you used a weak password for convenience and then used it for multiple services), they still wouldn’t be able to hack your accounts.

When you log into a service with two-step security, your service provider will typically send you a code to your mobile phone. Only when you’ve entered your password and the code can you access your account. Two-step security used to only be offered for online banking but it is now increasingly common, with Google, Facebook and Twitter and other major providers encouraging customers to adopt it.

EFF – how to enable two-factor authentication for your online accounts

Be mindful of public WiFi and look out for secure websites

HTTPS icon with green padloack icon
Secure website with green padlock and https in its address line

Free WiFi is often found in cafes, pubs and train stations. While it is really convenient, it also poses security risks. The majority of free WiFi is insecure, meaning anyone else using the same network can potentially view the sites you are visiting and even steal your login details. Free WiFi is great for browsing the web but wherever possible I would recommend you avoid using it for sensitive tasks. If you need to do something sensitive, it is better to use your own mobile data plan than rely on public WiFi.

While public WiFi is inherently insecure, you can boost your online safety by only accessing secure websites. When visiting these sites, your connection is private and any personal information you enter (such as banking details) is protected from hackers. Look out for sites with a green padlock and the letters ‘https’ next to the site address.

It’s a good idea to look for the green padlock at all times, not just when using free WiFi. In the past, only banking and online shopping used secure connections. There is currently a massive move towards encrypting the web because of the important security and privacy benefits it offers.

Think before you post

Cat meme. Cat sitting on table with the caption 'It's time we talk about the photos of me you've been posting online'
It’s important to enlist the help of your friends and family to protect your online reputation

As well as following the general online safety advice describe above, teachers have to be aware of how their online activities could affect their professional reputation.

While everyone is entitled to a private life, it’s important to think about would be the consequences of an ill-judged Facebook or Twitter update being shared by students at school. Is it really necessary to share an update from a lively stag or hen do on social media? In essence the advice boils down to ‘think before you post’.

Think before you post also applies to friends and family. It’s a good idea to talk to friends and family and ask them not to tag them into potentially embarrassing or controversial updates. Most people will respect your wishes and limit your exposure on social media.

UK Safer Internet Centre Рprofessional reputation 

Review your social media privacy settings

As well as thinking before you post, it’s important to review your social media privacy settings to restrict who can and cannot read your Facebook and Twitter updates and discover you online.

Chances are, if you’ve not reviewed your privacy settings in a while, you’ll be shocked by how much information you’re sharing about yourself. For example, a student or parent could easily look you up on Facebook and scroll through photos you’ve posted online going all the way back to your university days. Twitter profiles are public by default but it is possible to protect your account so that only people you approve can read your updates.

Facebook – basic privacy settings and tools

Twitter – about public and protected tweets

UK Internet Safety Centre – social media help

Report inappropriate social media content

Screenshot of Twitter update with reporting options selected
Reporting a (mildly) inappropriate tweet

Safeguarding is everyone’s responsibility. Do not ignore inappropriate content and/or behaviour online you encounter online. If in doubt, consult your school’s Safeguarding policy and speak to your Designated Safeguarding Person (DSP) about the best way to respond.

Examples of inappropriate content and/or behaviour could include:

  • A student asking to become your friend on Facebook
  • A student posting unkind or bullying comments about another student
  • Racist, sexist, homophobic or otherwise abusive/threatening posts or comments

Facebook, Twitter and other online services offer reporting tools to deal with inappropriate content or behaviour. After flagging inappropriate content the service providers will investigate it and take action, although the reporting systems are by no means foolproof.

Facebook – report something

Twitter – how to report specific types of violations

Don’t be afraid to Google yourself

Google search results page for 'Francis Clarke'
Google search. The online articles I have written for The Guardian have boosted my personal profile

Searching for yourself online, particularly if you’ve got an unusual name, can be a helpful way of understanding your ‘digital footprint’. Do you show up on the first page of Google? If so, is it for the reasons you would like it to be.

Teachers may be shocked to find their details on the website Rate My Teacher. As the name suggests, the site encourages students and parents to rate their teachers in a similar fashion to a hotel on TripAdvisor.

According to the site guidelines, the site operators are committed to pro-actively removing offensive comments will be removed. Should you discover inappropriate content about yourself you can flag it for moderation or removal.

As you start to lock down your social media settings the size of your ‘digital footprint’ should begin to diminish. As well as controlling personal content, another good way of managing your reputation is by sharing high quality, professional content online. Contributing articles to The Guardian’s Teacher Network or setting up a free blog on WordPress where you discuss your teaching practice can help grow your professional reputation and ensure you’re discovered online for the right reasons.

Find out more

If your organisation could benefit from additional support around online safety or digital communications, OpenUp Digital would be happy to help. Please contact us for an informal discussion about how we can help you.

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