Security Tips for Teaching Online

The following are general recommendations for using web conferencing and synchronous communication tools to communicate with students domestically and abroad, outside of the classroom, and for online instruction. 

Use approved University applications

When practical, use the approved University Applications (Zoom, Google Apps, Microsoft Teams, GoToMeeting, BlackBoard, and Canvas). These applications have been thoroughly vetted by the University and approved for academic use. These platforms have contractual obligations, and take technical measures to protect your data. 

Update software regularly to install new security features
  • While Zoom provides global updates regularly, you can update it yourself by clicking on your profile photo and selecting “check for updates.”
  • Microsoft Teams and Google are ‘cloud services’ and are regularly updated automatically.
Understand the risks and challenges facing students
  • Know that students who are participating in your class from countries that restrict the free flow of information and ideas may be at risk – of being subject to surveillance, harassment, political persecution, or criminal penalties if they violate local laws.In some of those countries, governments are actively monitoring the content of electronic communications.
  • Consider requiring or encouraging students to use background images to protect the privacy of their living environments. A background can be added by clicking on your profile photo, selecting settings, and choosingBackgrounds and Filters.” Princeton backgrounds are also available.
  • Understand that students may not have living environments that afford them the freedom of expression they would enjoy on campus. Ask your students if they can speak freely and make appropriate accommodations – for instance, allow them to “comment” in writing --  if they can’t.
  • Encourage your students to reach out to you or other available University resources if they have concerns about certain course content or their virtual learning environment.
  • Be aware that the U.S. Government believes that the WeChat (Weixin in Chinese) app poses a risk to users in the United States. Use of the application is not currently banned, pending resolution of an on-going injunction.   
Take steps to protect yourself
  • If discussing sensitive or politically charged topics with students in countries that restrict the free flow of information and ideas, be aware that you may be at risk, too, although the practical risk is lower if you are teaching from the U.S. In many countries where online monitoring is commonplace, it is illegal to circumvent the monitoring (e.g., by using VPN). In China, for example, it is technologically infeasible to secure any electronic communications from monitoring.
  • Store your content on your computer or on University-approved servers to prevent unauthorized copying or duplication. The approved University applications such as Zoom use only U.S. data centers.
    • In Zoom, save the file to your computer’s hard drive
    • In BlackBoard and Canvas, use Kaltura 
    • Use the University YouTube Channel (The Office of Communications manages the official Princeton University YouTube channel. Submit videos by emailing: pvideo@princeton.edu).
    • Use University-approved Google Drives 
Protect your digital classroom

The following guidance is Zoom-specific. For more detailed instructions, visit our Knowledge Base article, "Zoom Security & Privacy Best Practices."

  • Enable waiting rooms, which allow you to control entry to your classroom.
  • Disable remote control by controlling who can share their screen and preventing an uninvited visitor from taking over your computer.
  • Disable screen sharing as a default setting.
  • Designate someone (such as your AI) as a co-host so that they can assist you or continue the meeting if your connection gets dropped.
  • Record only when you need to do so to support the pedagogical needs of the class. Recommended options for recording, storing, and sharing your lecture can be found on the McGraw Center's website.
Ask for help if you need it
  • Email infosec@princeton for questions about information security or the security tips and recommendations above.
  • Phone the Office of General Counsel at 609-258-2500 or by fax at 609-258-2502 for legal questions. 
  • Email McGraw@princeton.edu for general questions about using the recommended tools for online instruction.