Cyber threats to online education: A Delphi study

Delphi study related to future security issues for online learning management systems in online education


While most are aware of news stories related to individuals “hacking” into government agencies, credit bureaus, and businesses, the subject of the vulnerability of on-line education to cyber-attack is rarely discussed.  However, there are nearly seven million online students in the United States alone, and they are all potential targets.  Online education systems are “soft targets” because education systems tend to lag in both technology and trained personnel.  The consequences can be significant, with security breaches of university systems resulting in costs to universities in millions of dollars.  The purpose of this study was to discern cyber threats and the most likely areas of vulnerability of cyber attack of online learning systems.  The methodology was an e-Delphi study using an expert panel.  The design is a classical Delphi technique, but conducted via email (e-Delphi).  Selection of an expert panel is critical and the panel members are all involved with both cyber-security and higher education at some level.  All are active in national and international discussions on the topic of cyber threats to educational systems.  The e-Delphi technique used the traditional three rounds of questions and responses.  A series of seven topics emerged from the second round, including vulnerability of data, the need for improved use authentication, outdated hardware and software, encryption, leader concerns, and training for staff and students.  The third round asked the expert panel to expand on the most critical issues, which included vulnerability of data, user authentication, and outdated hardware and software.  The panel was then asked three additional questions about each of the three most critical issues and multiple subthemes developed.  The subthemes are detailed, summarized, and discussed.  The findings of the study highlight the seriousness of this issue and provide topics that need to be addressed as well as leading-edge methods to address cyber security threats to online learning systems.

This publication has been peer reviewed.
Publication Type: 
Conference Proceedings
Phillip L. Davidson, Kenneth W. Hasledalen
Year of Publication: 
Journal, Book, Magazine or Other Publication Title: 
Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference on Management, Leadership and Governance
Academic Conferences and Publishing International
Date Published: 
Monday, March 31, 2014
Place Published: 
Reading, UK
Publication Language: 
ISSN Number: 
ISBN Number: 
Phil Dover, Sam Hariharan, Michael Cummings
Boyer's Domain: 

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