Returning to school or heading off to college for the first time can be very exciting—new places, new friends and new experiences. Unfortunately, along with these great new opportunities comes the increased risk to your personal privacy. Being a college student today opens the door to a variety of unique security risks. With everything from the personal information that you provide for turning in homework to dorm life where other students could gain access to your devices, college students are exposed to countless ways of having their data exposed or stolen—highlighting the need for you to do your best to keep yourself safe.
Protecting Your Information
One of the best ways to start protecting your information is with good password practices. Here are a few tips:
- Don’t use the same password multiple times.
- Even if the website/app doesn’t force you to when making your password, use a variety of characters that include uppercase, lowercase, numbers and symbols.
- If you can’t remember your passwords, use a password manager (i.e. LastPass).
- Use two-factor authentication whenever possible—allowing access to your account only when a second security code is entered.
It’s common for college students to use a coffee shop’s Wi-Fi or their school’s open network to connect to the internet, but these are definitely more prone to unauthorized users and could leave your information vulnerable for someone to steal. Whenever possible, don’t use unsecured networks like these. In any case, you can also use a virtual private network (VPN) to encrypt your information and keep your online activity private.
It’s also important to remember to destroy any personal information that is not being used. If you have paper records (i.e. bank and credit card statements or school records), make sure to shred them before trashing/recycling them. If you’re planning to sell or recycle your old computers or phones, fully remove and erase any storage devices and/or use the factory reset option to clear your data before you do.
Protecting Your Devices
If you are going to leave your laptop or phone out in a common space (where someone could easily take it), ask someone you know and trust to keep an eye out for your device.
With the risks of viruses and malware being spread through USB drives, external hard drives and CDs/DVDs, be aware of what you plug into your computer. If you don’t know or trust the source, it’s probably best not to hook it up. And even if you do trust the source, it’s a good idea to make sure your anti-virus software is up-to-date before plugging in/installing anything on your computer.
Protecting Your Identity
With the multitude of phishing scams out there, it’s important that you learn to spot them. Many consist of people posing as bank or university employees asking for personal information to verify your account that will then gain them access to your account and information. Large organizations will almost never ask for your password or PIN via phone, text or email. Also, be careful when opening links in emails. If there’s ever any doubt, it’s best to verify the sender’s credentials before giving out your personal information.
As hackers have shown the ability to use webcams to record activity, blackmail the individual recorded or sell any information gathered, it’s a good idea to keep your webcam covered when it’s not in use. Many outlets (online and not) sell reusable stickers or slide covers for your webcams inexpensively.
While we live in a world where many people are open to sharing their lives on social media, it’s important to not overshare. Remember, once you post something, you can’t take it back. You may have erased it, but you can’t guarantee someone didn’t save a copy before you did. Bad people can also befriend you through your posts and gain access to all kinds of your personal information:
- where you live, work and go to school
- who your friends and family are
- what kind of vehicle you drive or transit you take
- when you are at home or away
Make sure to also check your bank, social media and other accounts regularly to monitor for any suspicious activity.
With thousands of people falling victim to identity theft every year as education becomes an increasingly-breached industry and college students being cyberbullied for things they post online, it’s so important that you take the steps now to make your lives safer for the future.
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