AUCKLAND, New Zealand, January 21, 2021 – When students returned to school following the nationwide COVID-19 Alert Level 4 lockdown, their schools were targeted by more than 2,000 online threats per minute, according to a new report released today by Crown company Network for Learning (N4L).
N4L’s first “data and insights” report reviews online safety and student use of its school-based internet services from April 15 to July 3, 2020 (Term 2). During this time, which includes 22 days of remote learning away from the “Managed Network”, the company blocked more than 120 million cyber security threats and 90 unsafe websites featuring harmful digital content.
Many organisations within New Zealand and around the world have reported a rise in the volume and severity of online threats since the global pandemic changed the ways we work and learn, with cyber criminals quick to exploit vulnerabilities in computer systems and people’s anxieties around COVID-19.
The report also shows that school internet use continues to climb, with 174 terabytes of data consumed via N4L’s network during Term 2, the equivalent of 58,000 hours or 6.5 years of streaming Netflix-quality video. Spread this consumption across 800,000 New Zealand students, the average weekly data use is 1 gigabyte per student.
N4L CEO Larrie Moore says schools are the largest consumers of daytime internet in the country and are not immune to online threats: “Schools are increasingly reliant on safe internet for teaching and learning and we are doing more to keep them safe and secure while at school and beyond.
“It is a massive task involving many organisations and our role is expanding. Technology is an important part of the online safety solution but it is never bulletproof. Ongoing vigilance and education is paramount.
“This year we are building our security operations capabilities, providing greater cyber security support to schools and continuing a four-year Ministry of Education programme to upgrade the wireless networks inside schools.”
What’s in the report?
The report’s three sections review data generated by the technology N4L uses to connect, protect and support school-based online learning. Further insights into how students used N4L services beyond the school gate are also included.
Online safety and security threats
- Phishing scams, malware and unauthorised attempts to access the school network are the most common cyber security threats blocked by N4L’s “Managed Network” service.
- Schools are using N4L’s service to keep students focused on learning by blocking websites featuring file sharing and storage, games, free software downloads and social networking sites. Together these sites represent more than two thirds of all blocked web content.
- A spike in Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks was noted the week of May 24th, when students had returned to school.
- Pornography represents 1.4% of all content blocked using N4L’s filtering, whereas social networking represents 12% and gaming is 20.4%
- Data from N4L’s Switch on Safety filter, a free, optional tool parents can apply to their child’s devices to support remote learning shows a high number of unsafe websites (3 million) and online threats (500,000) were blocked for the 25,000 remote learners who had downloaded it onto their devices.
Student data use patterns
- Secondary school students use twice as much data as primary school students, with data consumption changing depending on the size and location of their school.
- Data use across 16 regions was reviewed, with students attending schools in the West Coast and Manawatu-Whanganui consuming the most data, whereas students attending Marlborough and Northland schools consumed the least.
- N4L also trialled a new way to connect students learning from home using portable hotspot devices and the 4G network, where the average student monthly consumption ranged from 12-20GB.
- The websites schools spent the most time on are owned by the big three tech companies: Google, Microsoft and Apple.
- Streaming media accounts for 25% of all data consumed on N4L’s network. However, neither Netflix nor YouTube are named on the report’s lists of Top 10 websites indicating where students are spending the most time.
N4L created the report to review how its services are being used within and outside of school, and to make these insights available to government, education and technology organisations serving the digital needs of our school communities.
Nicola Ngarewa, Principal of Spotswood College and chair of the Teaching Council of Aotearoa New Zealand says its important schools have access to the tools provided by N4L: “The best learning will happen in an environment that is protected from the worst of the web and free from content that is inappropriate and distracting to learning. Schools choose which books they stock in their libraries and which online content they allow their children to access for learning.”
The company is considering a second data and insights report, to cover the last half of 2020, to be released later this year.
About Network for Learning (N4L)
N4L connects all ākonga to smart and safe internet for learning. Today, all Aotearoa New Zealand schools and their 860,000 students and teachers have access to a safe and reliable online learning environment through N4L. The Crown company works alongside government, education and technology partners on ways to provide safe connectivity for students, including those living without home internet access so they can carry on learning with their whānau, beyond the school gate. See www.n4l.co.nz.