With summer coming to an end, college students are preparing for the new school year to start. In our ever connected world, access to a computer or smartphone is more or less mandatory considering that professors upload practically all assignments online. While the majority of students have access to these devices, college aged students aren’t exactly notorious for abiding by the safety protocols laid out by their parents or past teachers. Not surprisingly, as a result cyberattacks on college students occur frequently, which is why it’s important to know how to protect your device and the data stored on it. There are a number of ways you can protect yourself (or your college aged student) from malicious actors.
Wifi Networks: Think before you connect. A secure connection to a wifi network is a must. If you are unsure as to whether or not a connection is secure, consider this; networks can be open – meaning everyone in the area can connect to it; or closed – allowing only those who know a specific password to connect. Open networks seem convenient, but they can be a cyber criminal’s best friend. Hackers can gain access to users’ credit card information if they are shopping online, and even personal information if they are using sites like Facebook since the networks are not secure. Using a VPN, or Virtual Private Network, encrypts all data and allows users to browse the online world with complete anonymity. While using a VPN is the safest way to connect online, joining password protected networks offers a greater amount of security than an open network.
Flash Drives: These small memory storage drives are a necessity for work and school. They go by many names, USB drives, thumb drives, etc. and are used by an individual seeking to quickly and conveniently store or transfer files. Since these drives have become increasingly popular to use, hackers have started to write malware that attacks them specifically. This means that you could unknowingly insert an infected drive into your personal or work computer, causing the malware to spread. This could potentially give the hacker access to your information or even shut down your computer system completely. Avoid storing sensitive information on the drives, and if possible, purchase a flash drive that offers more security such as one with fingerprint recognition. Most importantly, never insert an unknown USB drive into your machine.
Social Media: A study done by Pew Research Center revealed that 65% of American adults use social media, and a staggering 90% of college students are active on some type of social media platform. To that end, It seems almost unorthodox to not be using social media in today’s world. Although social media is a beneficial tool for networking, it is important to limit how much personal information you display for others to see. Updating your privacy settings so that only approved friends and followers can see your posts and information is recommended. Allowing your profile and posts to be viewed by anyone gives potential criminals and hackers access to information such as your birthday, email, or even your home address. If you’re living in a dorm, broadcasting to the world that you are out of town for a weekend could even tip off potential robbers that your room is vacant.
Password Protection: Whenever you create an account on a website, whether it’s social media or work affiliated, you receive strict guidelines stating that your password must fulfill certain requirements to be valid. This usually involves including a combination of at least one uppercase letter, one lowercase, a number, or even symbols. These requirements may seem unnecessary, but they are put in place for your own benefit. Creating a long, complex password with a variation of different characters makes it extremely tough for hackers to crack it. It’s a good idea to have different passwords for each account you have, and programs such as LastPass keep all your passwords in one place and can be accessed with one master password.
The Cloud: The concept of cloud is relatively new, but most brand name technology companies offer their own unique versions of it. For example, Apple developed iCloud, Google made Drive, and Microsoft created Azure for their customers. The basic premise of Cloud is simple, an easily accessible, remote storage solution that utilizes shared resources to back up the information stored on personal devices. If disaster strikes, having your data stored on a cloud server prevents a bad situation from becoming worse. So what can you back up? Pretty much anything, but consider backing up important photos and videos, purchased content, documents, messages, and really whatever you feel to be important information. Backing up to the cloud is an effortless and reliable way to make sure your data is available should disaster strike.
Returning to school can be a very exciting time, but not if you are making yourself vulnerable to a cyberattack. Following these tips can help ensure that your device and information will be secure, and remember to always remain vigilant when exploring online.