Facebook Cyberjacking: Some Implications for Colleges and Universities

by Hap Aziz

As a regular contributor to Fox 35 News in Orlando on topics related to technology, I often have the opportunity to comment on current events that not only have a direct impact on the “individual consumer,” but also effect those involved (students, faculty, and whole institutions) in the teaching and learning environment. This evening I was interviewed by Sonni Abatta, and I provided some brief commentary on the recent occurrences of cyberjacking that have been spreading on Facebook along with some ways to minimize the risk of becoming one of the victims. (I’ve posted the interview clip on my YouTube channel, and you can see it by clicking on the image below.)

What I wasn’t able to discuss during the interview were the fairly serious implications that this latest hacking activity could have in the long run for colleges and universities. For context, we should be aware of a few statistics:

  • Approximately 50% of the U.S. population is on Facebook.
  • Over 85% of students in the U.S. have Facebook accounts.
  • If we consider all social media, 91% of college faculty use social media as a part of their work.

These three statistics are indicators of the current level of importance of social media plays in the teaching and learning environment, as well as a comparative measure of the penetration gap between higher education and the general population. Clearly, higher education is adopting social media at a faster rate than the general public (perhaps not surprising considering the origins of Facebook). So what are we to understand from Facebook’s latest in a distressingly active string of privacy/security/hacking “challenges”?

To answer this question, it’s necessary to understand the movement by institutions toward making much greater use of social media tools for a variety of purposes: admissions and student recruitment, student communications and outreach, event planning and marketing, and even some movement into the more traditional areas of Learning Management and Student Information Systems. Many institutions see social media as a powerful tool for student and staff engagement–and rightly so, given the widespread use outside of the classroom.

All too often, however, we see stories of social media systems being compromised for a variety of issues ranging from non-secure software to end-user naivete, leading to problems occasionally as mild as user inconvenience, but too often, unfortunately, as severe as loss of personal identity information. Sometimes the issues arise due to software defects, but often there are systemic issues based on end-user behavior that allow exploitation of legitimate software features. It’s difficult to make the case that users should not click on that interesting photo link or video clip, when one of the main reasons for the existence of social media is to share interesting photo links and video clips!

As institutions request and receive software systems that incorporate social media features, they will need assurances that the solutions implemented to serve their populations are secure and free of the types of attacks that Facebook suffers. If not, the integration of social media into education will result in a set of challenges that will largely invalidate any benefits gained.

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Filed under colleges and universities, social media

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