Go-to guide to tech security and privacy for college students
July 30, 2021
If you’re getting ready for college, there’s one thing you can count on: You can’t get through college without technology.
You’re going to need a few things to make your college career a success. A laptop, smartphone, and printer are some of the items that may come to mind. Tip: You might be able to get your folks to help you out with this.
In addition to the tech gadgets you cart off to college, there’s something else that will be just as important: how you’ll keep your devices secure and personal information private when you’re there.
Let’s take a look at why tech security and privacy are so important. You’ll also find help on how to keep your tech gadgets — and the private data that’s on them — safe, secure, and private.
Why are tech security and privacy so important?
Identity thieves sometimes target students and younger people.
As someone who may not have any credit history, your Social Security number could represent a clean slate that has been untouched and might remain unchecked for a while.
This could give identity thieves time to do things like open bank and credit card accounts, take out loans, and even apply for employment — all in your name — and potentially without anyone knowing for a while.
These factors make tech security important. One thing you and your parents can do — both before you leave for college and while there — is to check and keep tabs on your credit and finances.
Why? You want to be sure nobody has gained access to or is using your identity or other personal data for fraudulent purposes.
Computer safety — laptops, desktops, monitors, printers
You’ll probably use a computer or another device each day, whether it’s at class, the library, the local coffee shop, or your dorm. Maintaining the security of your devices will be key to keeping cybercriminals at bay.
What happens if you don’t keep your devices secure? You might download malware, which is malicious software that can gain access to and damage your computer without your knowledge.
Malware can steal everything from your login credentials and passwords to other personal data like your financial information.
Cybercriminals can spread malware through phishing attacks that try to trick you into giving away your personal information in response to their deceptive emails. They do this by embedding malware in malicious emails that contain malicious links and attachments.
If you click on those attachments or links in these malicious emails, the malware can infect your devices and potentially steal your private data.
Another form of malicious software is ransomware, which can lock your computer and encrypt your device data, demanding a ransom for restoring access to your files.
Ransomware can also present challenges for organizations like universities, which hold large amounts of student and staff data.
7 computer safety tips to help protect your devices
Take the steps below to help keep your computer and other devices safe and secure.
1. Be careful while using the internet
The general rule is not to click on website links in emails. They could lead you to unsecure and malicious sites. Always go to the website directly yourself by typing in the URL — and checking the URL. Look for the “HTTPS://” prefix to be sure the site is secure.
2. Use caution when emailing
Never open email attachments or click on links in emails from unknown sources. Hackers may send emails that try to fool you into thinking they’re from a teacher, a classmate, or a friend. One of the most common ways malware and viruses gain access to your computer and other devices is through emails disguised as being sent by someone you trust.
3. Set strong passwords
You should always strive to set strong, unique passwords for each of your school, social, and financial accounts. Weak passwords can leave you vulnerable to hackers. Strong passwords include a unique, random group of at least 12 letters, numbers, and special characters. You might also consider using passphrases that you can remember, but others would have a hard time guessing.
Using a password manager can help you set strong, unique passwords. Password managers set one master password that gives you access to all of your accounts. Activating multi-factor authentication can offer even greater protection for your devices.
4. Check your security and privacy settings.
It’s important to always monitor your privacy settings, especially for apps. Sometimes the privacy policies in apps change. This could pose a privacy concern unless you read the fine print carefully. Unwanted apps also could drain your battery and slow down your devices.
5. Install reputable security and antivirus software
In addition to having reliable security and antivirus software, you’ll need to keep it updated. One thing you can do is activate automatic updates. This will keep your devices updated with the latest security patches to guard against any new security vulnerabilities or malicious software roaming around. Strong cybersecurity will help protect your network, devices, and programs from attacks.
6. Update, update, update
Make sure your computer’s and other devices’ automatic updates are turned on. Updating apps and operating systems helps maintain security and address any software vulnerabilities.
7. Back it up.
Backing up your files regularly is important. You don’t want to lose access to that thesis paper you’ve worked so hard on or all of the pictures you took first semester. That way, if something happens and you lose access or data, you’ll be able to retrieve it from your external backup.
Wearable smart device safety — smartphones, smartwatches, fitness trackers
Wearable smart devices are popular, and hackers see them as targets. Why? These devices, if accessed by third parties, can divulge personal information like your identity, location, health, and other private data.
One technology that has opened the door for new cyberattacks is biometrics. Biometrics is a technology that enables identity verification. It enables some smartphone users, for example, to gain quicker access to their devices through fingerprint and facial recognition technology.
While biometric authentication can make using tech quicker and easier, the problem becomes the potential for identity thieves to steal your biometric identifiers to use for their own malicious purposes. After all, any collection of data could eventually be hacked.
High-profile data like biometrics is especially attractive for hackers. While you can change your password, you can’t change your fingerprint or iris scan; this makes biometrics potentially more vulnerable than other kinds of data.
There are ways to help keep your biometric data safer.
- Keep biometric data like your fingerprint, face scan, or iris scan in only a few places.
- Keep your software up to date.
- Consider opting out of providing your biometric data. For example, you could choose a smartphone that doesn’t require fingerprint authentication or choose not to use facial recognition software.
- Consider taking proactive steps like disabling facial recognition in your Facebook settings.
Bluetooth gadgets — webcams, keyboards, speakers, headphones, chargers
There are so many tech gadgets that use Bluetooth to connect to your devices. You don’t want hackers gaining access to your personal data through these. With virtual learning becoming so popular on video conferencing tools, webcams are devices that have become a attractive target for cybercriminals.
Being away at college, you may need to make virtual, on-screen appointments with your doctor or another healthcare provider. Without the necessary security protection, this could open the door for hackers to gain access to even more of your private data by intercepting these transmissions.
There are steps you can take to protect help protect yourself from video call risks. One thing you should always do before joining a virtual meeting is review your privacy and security settings, along with your videoconference software settings, for example, to help keep your webcam meetings secure and private.
You also should be sure to update whatever videoconferencing tool you’re using. Then, when your meeting is over, remember to turn off your camera and microphone in your settings. You also can turn off Bluetooth in your settings for anything you aren’t using.
Smart home device safety — security systems, wireless routers, TVs, smart outlets, smart speakers, hubs
Whenever something is connected to the web, there’s potential for infiltration by cybercriminals. You don’t want to give them access. An AI-powered, voice-activated speaker is one example of a smart home device that could have direct access to your personal information.
Your apartment or dorm room isn’t going to be just a roof over your head. It’s also where you’ll store your personal property — property that stores personal data about your identity. If a hacker gains access to the data on your devices, they can use that private information to commit identity theft and other online frauds.
There are some things you can do right away to help protect your devices and personal data at home.
- Buy a safe that can store documents containing your private information.
- Be sure your mailbox or mail slot can’t be accessed by anyone else.
- Don’t use public Wi-Fi. Part of these precautions include locking down your home wireless network with a strong password (and resetting any default passwords) — and not sharing that password with anyone. You also can activate a virtual private network (VPN), which gives you a secure, encrypted connection to the internet for data you send and receive.
- Consider installing a home security system.
- Install security software on your devices. This could include an identity theft protection service.
External hard drive safety — USB cables
USB cables are another way malware can infiltrate your computer and other devices. Be sure your USB is new and clean.
You can also turn on USB Restricted Mode in your settings. USB Restricted Mode is a security feature on iOS that prevents USB accessories that plug into the device from making data connections with other devices like your iPhone, iPad, or iPod.
So, while you’re looking ahead and preparing to outfit your dorm room or apartment, keep these college prep to-dos in mind to help ensure the start of your college experience is safe and successful.
Cyber threats have evolved, and so have we.
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