Digital security for online ESL teachers, is it necessary?

Online English teaching can leave you vulnerable to a range of different dangers than the average user. We’ll cover some easy tips that you can use to keep yourself safe – including using a VPN, avoiding remote access software and maximising your device protection.

This post is written for Australians and New Zealanders but all of our information can be used by teachers worldwide. We use affiliate links, which earn us a small commission (at no cost to you, see our Disclaimer) but always aim to give you the best quality advice.

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This post is part of our “Ultimate teach English online guide“. Go check it out. 

Why is digital security for online English teachers important?

The Australian Cyber Security Centre’s (ACSC) online reporting tool (ReportCyber), which “assists members of the community to report different types of cybercrime” receives a report every 10 minutes. It is incredibly common and can lead you to be at risk of identity theft or fraud. Online English teaching can incur some additional risks and working for a company based overseas means that you are potentially at risk from data breaches and hackers outside of Australian jurisdiction, so it’s worth spending a bit of time securing your system as best you can.

Note: We are NOT cyber security specialists, just online English teachers. These tips are based on our own personal experiences and research. If you want more information, consult a professional or visit the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) website.

OUR TOP TIPS

Do not include personal information on your resume

I recently found a copy of a resume that I had sent to an international company almost two years ago online. Luckily it did not contain anything too personal. It’s worth remembering though that once it’s on the internet, it’s hard to remove. 

My general advice is DO NOT INCLUDE ON YOUR RESUME YOUR:

Home address;
Passport/Driver’s License/Birth Certificate/Social Security Number;
Phone number.

Use a VPN.

We personally always use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) when connected to the internet but feel that is particularly important to do so when teaching online. A VPN is a secure tunnel between two or more devices (such as between your computer, Internet Service Provider (ISP) and your teaching platform) and is used to “protect private web traffic from snooping, interference, and censorship” by encrypting your data and making it more difficult to intercept or steal at it travels through this tunnel. This is even more important when using public wi-fi, as this is more vulnerable than your ‘private’ home connection.

We’ve been using ExpressVPN for a few years now and find it easy to use, doesn’t slow down our internet speed and is consistently well reviewed. Click on the link for 30 days FREE.

Use Antivirus software.

You’re likely already using some form of antivirus program but if not, it will help protect you from malware, ransomware, spyware and adware. We use Avast, which have both excellent free and paid versions.

Avoid remote access software.

Many online English teaching companies ask you to download remote access software such as TeamViewer so that they can access your computer and troubleshoot any IT problems that you might be having. While this might be integral in certain situations, there are obvious risks in letting a staff member in a foreign IT department access your personal device via this type of software, so we recommend that you proceed with caution before downloading this software and particularly before opening it and sharing your connection. Other common remote access software includes: Remote PC, Zoho Assist, Splashtop, LogMeIn, ConnectWise Control and Remote Desktop Manager (among others).

Maximise your device protection.

There are many small things that you can do to increase your device security, depending on whether you are using a computer, laptop or mobile device (phone/tablet) to teach classes, including (but not limited to!):

  • Cover your webcam when not in use. You can do a ‘Zuckerberg’ and use a piece of tape or post it note but you will end up with sticky residue on your cam after a while. You can buy an inexpensive webcam cover slide for only a few dollars.
  • Choose a strong password, change it regularly and use a different password for your online teaching platform than you do for other sites as online teaching platfoms from overseas companies are not always well secured.
  • If you teach over Zoom, set a password for students to enter and/or use a waiting room to avoid Zoombombing.
  • Many Chinese companies use apps such as WeChat and DingTalk to communicate between staff and teachers but there are security concerns so be cautious and avoid sharing identity documents through these channels.

Be careful.

In summary – if you follow the above tips, you are less likely to encounter some the dangerous elements that teaching online can expose you to – but caution and carefulness are always the best approach to security. If your company asks you to download software, do a quick google search first and look for online reviews. China, in particular, has their own version of many common programs used in other countries so it helps to do your homework before downloading and ask your company if an alternative is available. In the world of digital security, a little bit of prevention is better than a possible lifetime of cure.

International Job List

REGULARLY UPDATED [2021] list of the top 50 online English teaching jobs for Australians & New Zealanders.

Do you have any tips for keeping safe while teaching English online? Comment below…

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This post is part of our “Ultimate teach English online guide“. Go check it out. 

About the Author:

Kate (GradCertEd (TESOL)) studied a TESOL certificate in 2010 and has been teaching English ever since, tutoring ‘freelance’ for many years before starting an independent teaching business. She began Teach English Online to support Australians and New Zealanders to, well… succeed teaching English online. Whether you are just starting out, want to apply to one of the 300+ global companies or build your own small independent teaching business, she can help.

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