Security in an online learning environment is multi-layered since it involves the people and technologies participating in the learning process (E-Learning Faculty Modules, 2011). Students, instructors, and other authorized participants in the online learning environment can take the following actions to help maintain security:
1. Use reputable and updated anti-virus software on their computer systems.
2. Use secure wireless networks to connect to the Internet and online learning management system (LMS). Password protecting a router used at home is necessary given the magnitude and nature of online threats.
3. Do not share or disseminate logon credentials (i.e., username and password) with others.
4. Use strong passwords (e.g., consisting of upper- and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters).
5. Backup data such as assignments, research, pictures, and bookmarks to removable media (e.g., USB flash drives and/or external hard drives).
6. Store removable media in a safe place and scan them regularly using anti-virus software for viruses, malware, spyware, and other malicious code.
7. Be vigilant when downloading and installing software, or opening e-mail attachments by making sure they are from credible sources. If in doubt, contact the Internet Service Provider or technical support staff.
Unfortunately, people do not always follow the aforementioned strategies for a myriad of reasons. As a result, Information Technology (IT) Departments responsible for providing and maintaining the online learning environment need to be proactive and dynamic in their approach to network security. Some of the measures employed are described below.
1. Implementing security appliances that incorporate firewall, anti-virus, anti-spyware, anti-malware, anti-phishing, and URL filtering capabilities to protect the online learning system from being infected or harmed by malicious code from student, instructor, or other computers accessing its resources (Cisco Systems, 2009).
2. Utilizing hardware and software to restrict access to only authorized users and computers. Cisco Systems uses a product called Network Admission Control (NAC) which verifies a user’s logon credentials and then checks the user’s computing device to make sure it meets strict criteria. For instance, if it has working anti-virus software and its network card(s)’s media access control (MAC) address(es) are authorized to connect to the network. If the user’s computing device does not pass the authentication process, then it will not be able to connect to the online learning environment (Cisco Systems, 2009). Figure 1 illustrates how Cisco’s NAC system works.
Figure 1: How Cisco Network Admission Control (NAC) Works
(Cisco Systems, 2009, p. 24)
3. Configuring sound onsite and offsite redundant backup systems to protect user data, and readily restore the online learning environment to a useable state after corruption or data loss occurs (E-Learning Faculty Modules, 2011).
When participants use standardized computers with authorized software, maintaining the security of the online learning environment is certainly less problematic. However, given that this is not always the case, it is imperative that academic institutions communicate proper security practices to its students, faculty, and staff, and enforce the policies through hardware and software solutions to ensure a safe, secure, and reliable online learning system.
Cisco Systems. (2009). Cisco Security Solutions for Education. Retrieved from http://www.cisco.com/web/strategy/docs/education/cafe_security_solutions.pdf
E-Learning Faculty Modules. (2011). Secure Learning Online. Retrieved from http://elearningfacultymodules.org/index.php/Secure_Learning_Online
Zwart, D. (2011). Latin American Bankers to Discuss Data Security. Retrieved from http://blog.linomasoftware.com/2011/09/12/latin-american-bankers-discuss-data-security/