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How to secure remote access in education in 2022

Remote learning and remote teaching are indispensable concepts in higher education around the world. Since the shift to remote working and online learning, the sector is facing more and more cybersecurity challenges. Where before the biggest part of school operations stayed in the school’s environment, there is now an increased use of technology in a remote environment. That means that there are also more potentially vulnerable access points for attackers. But how can you let staff and students securely access a desktop or application without putting the school network at risk?

IT admins of universities and colleges are thus looking for secure remote access solutions in education, as security is one of the primary worries in an increasingly digital world. We’re talking about enormous user groups (dozens of teachers and often thousands of students) that use many different devices to access applications and files with a lot of personal and sensitive data.

Remote learning is a standard part of the curriculum, but it comes with its own cybersecurity challenges

In this blog, we will be looking at  the top 4 remote access solutions used in education. Those are Teamviewer, VPN, RDP and secure unified workspaces. Needless to say, all these solutions are valid options to enable remote access in education – but they’re not always equally secure. Nevertheless, it’s important to keep the specific problems you want to solve in mind. Define how you want to enable remote access, and what remote access solution fits your query. That way, it will be clear that some solutions offer more advantages, often in terms of security, than others.

Why have remote access for staff and students?

In their courses, students often have to use very class-specific applications and software, which are installed on computers in university PC rooms. In times where (partially) remote learning is the norm rather than the exception, it is usually not possible to offer this software personally to students, as it is very expensive for the university and/or cannot be installed on any hardware. A way to solve this, could then be to give students remote access to the school computers via their own device (Chromebook, tablet, …) . Depending on what type of access your provide for these forms or remote learning, they can easily access the software – even if it’s legacy software (that needs to be installed on the device) from outside the university or college.

Another often-heard use-case is that of network-restricted third-party services. Educational institutions often have memberships for services like JSTOR that they offer to their students and academic personnel. Often, access to those services is limited to the network of the university or college. If a researcher or student can get access to these services from anywhere, this would greatly benefit the institution’s (and their personal) academic prowess.

However, enabling remote access is not only a necessity for the students. There are also many administrative staff members working in universities and colleges who would like the option of working remotely. For example, they may need access to personnel files or work with accounting applications from home. For those people, universities and colleges should be looking for a secure and simple solution, because this administrative staff often works with personal data of staff and students. There must be absolutely no risk of data loss, so security is very important. Furthermore, the IT team should not be burdened with the fact that these employees want to work at home, so a school should look for a simple solution that requires few support (tickets). Of course, this is also the case for teachers who want to be able to access files and applications they need for lessons remotely.

Remote access solutions in education in 2022

There are many remote access solutions for education on the market. However, some of them are complex to use or to manage, and others pose a risk to the educational organization’s critical cybersecurity. Let’s take a look at the top 4 remote access solutions in education in 2022:

TeamViewer

TeamViewer is a remote control computer software, that allows you to maintain computers and other devices. In an educational context it is sometimes used by IT teams to give remote support to students or teachers when one of those parties is not present at school. With the software, users can share their screens, application window and even an entire remote desktop.

This solution is especially useful to share a remote desktop view between users to collaborate or support. However, it is a less ideal software for teachers and students to connect with lab computers in the school.

Disadvantages of TeamViewer

TeamViewer is used to remotely control a computer. It’s simple, but comes with a set of security issues.

  • It is free for home/personal use, but it cannot be used for free in the commercial settings. Prices are steep: $130/mo for 3 concurrent sessions – at that rate, giving entire classes remote access quickly becomes a costly affair.
  • TeamViewer offers built-in MFA, but there is as of yet no way to enforce its use. This is a long outstanding request by the TeamViewer community
  • Because integration of AD and MFA are not mandatory, you risk leaked credentials. Students will log in with a username and password, and they’re in. It is unwise to have thousands of credentials shared with users that can access your network, and that don’t necessarily adhere to the privacy protocols you have put up
  • In the past years, researchers (and hackers) have discovered multiple 0day exploits in the TeamViewer software, such as CVE-2018-16550 (brute-force vulnerability) and CVE-2020-13699 (allowing malicious websites to launch the host device’s TeamViewer application)
  • Depending on your license, you can miss out on mass deployment. If you’re configuring (and maintaining) accounts for the entire school, this can become a very time-consuming effort. Furthermore, users report that its AD integration is cumbersome and requires many steps (it requires an additional software download (the TeamViewer AD connector), API key generation, etc.)
  • TeamViewer doesn’t have the ability to use full screen with high-resolution screens
  • A student or teacher needs a fast and continuous internet connection if they want to use TeamViewer
  • Students and staff are not able to share large files in an easy way
  • Every system needs to have a TeamViewer and the same version installed on it to work which is not efficient when students work remotely on an unmanaged device

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About Awingu
Awingu produces a browser-based Unified Workspace solution. It allows users to work and collaborate from virtually anywhere using any device compatible with HTML5 browsers. As a turnkey solution, Awingu offers businesses the ease and convenience of platform-independent mobility and offers everything you need to stay productive: legacy and cloud applications, documents and data. Awingu requires zero configuration and zero client software installation, making IT administration extremely simple.