Understanding Cyber Risks In eLearning

Cybersecurity Risks eLearning

Understanding Cyber Risks In eLearning

Online learning became the new norm for over 91% of the student population globally as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold and crippled countless industries in the U.S. and around the globe. Schools, colleges, and universities turned to remote emergency learning as a sole learning method after the closure of physical classrooms. However, these sudden digital changes found the education sector unprepared for cyberattacks associated with eLearning.

Besides, not all students, online instructors, and parents had the technology required or time to explore potential online learning risks. In contrast, educational institutions were worried that they might fall behind academically and hurried to implement online learning without proper cybersecurity measures. These moves exposed eLearning to an increased risk of cyberattacks.

Why eLearning Remains Vulnerable to Cyberattacks

Although recent eLearning attacks have raised concerns, leading to improved safety in online learning, most online learners and institutions continue to experience cyber threats. This indicates that hackers are finding vulnerabilities in online learning despite measures implemented to prevent such attacks. That said, here is what makes eLearning vulnerable to attacks.

  • Inadequate training: Most students found themselves learning at home after the pandemic hit and without proper guidelines on online security. Furthermore, most institutions continue to select random eLearning programs with substandard safety measures. These, among other instances, continue to expose online learning to cyberattacks.
  • Unprotected devices: eLearning allows students to learn from home, and this requires them to use personal electronic devices such as computers to access learning instructions. Because these devices are not as protected as school-owned, they are largely exposed to cyberattacks. Generally, online learners tend to have separate devices with different operating systems. These variations lack unified protection, consequently exposing sensitive data to cybercriminals.
  • Social engineering attacks: School-aged learners are the most regular users of various social media platforms, where malware spreads quickly. Besides, they use the same eLearning devices to access these platforms, which exposes them to social engineering threats.

Cyber Risks In eLearning

eLearning is an online learning platform that uses electronic resources to facilitate learning. Like online operations, eLearning can experience any form of cyberattack that threatens sensitive student and institution data. Below are cyber risks in eLearning.

DoS Attacks

Denial of service (DoS) is a form of cyberattack that floods computer systems or networks and prevents them from responding to requests. It is similar to distributed DoS (DDoS), but DDoS involves an attack within a computer network. DoS is a software attack that blocks users from accessing their programs, resulting in costly and unforeseen predicaments in eLearning systems and networks.

Authentication Risks

Typical online classes involve video conferencing where each student receives a unique code, email, or URL that gives them access to online meetings or sessions securely. Although it is an effective way to ensure online safety, some individuals may gain access to these meetings, leading to insecure connections. When eLearning institutions share meeting information through the internet, unauthorized people can learn these details and easily access one or more online classes.


The rapid transformation of learning from a physical classroom to learning from home also increased the frequency of how institutions communicate with students. Among them is through emails, and this tends to increase phishing attacks on eLearning. Attackers begin by sending fake instructions or announcements that deceive students, enabling hackers to access sensitive institution data. And with most learners unaware of how to differentiate authentic and fake communications, they are likely to concede and expose crucial data to hackers.

Cyber Espionage

Also referred to as spying, cyber espionage attacks involve cybercriminals who access personal, confidential, and sensitive data without the holder’s permission. In eLearning, hackers can use one or more ways of online learning to obtain confidential data from eLearning platforms and learning institutions offering online learning. This includes intercepting communications between students and the institution or deceiving students, and accessing restricted files and data.


Although malware is uncommon on eLearning platforms, it is a significant risk, mainly when existing measures cannot prevent such attacks. Viruses, spyware, and worms are among the risks of malware in online learning. Suppose a student clicks malicious links or attachments; it automatically activates harmful software in the system. A virus usually leads to corrupt files, or it might also damage the entire system if not managed on time. Typical impact of malware on eLearning include blocking access to the network, installing malicious software, and disrupting learning if the system becomes inoperable.

How Organizations Can Secure Their Data In eLearning

Without a doubt, eLearning has multiple cyber risks that target student’s personal data and sensitive institutional data. Knowing the potential risks online learners face is essential to identify effective ways to prevent such attacks. Here are some ways organizations can protect data in eLearning:

  • Protect shared sensitive data: eLearning includes myriad sensitive data sent back and forth between learners and online instructors. Most of the information is shared through email and other shared files. To ensure the data is secure, it is crucial to adopt reliable cybersecurity features to secure this data everywhere it goes.
  • Ensure compliance: Institutions offering eLearning must comply with HIPAA, FERPA, and other regulations to ensure proper encryption of student data. Encrypting institution and student data helps alleviate associated eLearning risks and guarantees its protection.
  • Manage user identity: Managing unauthorized individuals from joining online meetings or attending classes helps mitigate authentication risks. eLearning institutions should hence enhance their authentication, accountability, authorization, and confidentiality to ensure only those invited attend these sessions. For instance, having a secure and reliable single sign-on (SSO) provider helps validate students and secure communications.
  • Install anti-viruses and firewalls: To prevent malware attacks, install secure and reliable firewalls and anti-virus software to detect and prevent malicious software. This helps lessen malware risks and promote device safety.
  • Offer adequate training: Training is a critical aspect of ensuring online teachers and learners understand potential risks associated with eLearning. Besides, it helps institutions and students detect potential risks before an attack. Phishing and social engineering attacks are the most common; hence, detecting and preventing these risks earlier helps limit the impact.

Bottom Line

Although the pandemic made eLearning the only learning method, hackers used the opportunity to launch more attacks and steal sensitive data from students and learning institutions. Comprehending the potential risks of online learning and prevention is crucial. At WPG Consulting, we understand how cyber risks can affect eLearning. Hence, we offer a range of cybersecurity solutions to help detect and prevent potential cyber risks in eLearning. For more information, contact us to find out more today!

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Hitesh Patel
Hitesh Patel is an engineer turned business owner of WPG Consulting. He is a techie enthusiast who believes in finding creative IT solutions to solve consumer problems.

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